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Court of Appeal rejects class anonymity for civil servants

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The Court of Appeal today handed down an important judgment on the duty of candour, rejecting the government’s argument that it was entitled, as a matter of routine, to redact the names of “junior civil servants” from disclosed documents.

The issue arose in a judicial review claim relating to government policy on housing asylum seekers. In that claim, the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities disclosed heavily redacted documents.

When those redactions were challenged, they sought to argue that in general the names of “junior civil servants” are irrelevant and should be redacted. They also sought to argue that the redactions were permissible because civil servants could face unpleasant publicity if their names became public.

Justice was granted permission to intervene in the case by written and oral submissions.

The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of Mr Justice Swift, who found that as a matter of principle the duty of candour did not permit the blanket redaction of names appearing in disclosed documents and that the Government’s evidence came nowhere close to justifying the redactions sought.

The Court of Appeal also accepted Justice’s submission that the Government’s approach to redactions amounted to class anonymity for civil servants and a significant new exception to open justice, which could only be introduced by Parliament and was beyond the power of the courts.

The Government sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which was refused by the Court of Appeal. Any further application would need to be made directly to the Supreme Court.

Eleanor Mitchell and Guy Vassall-Adams KC represented Justice, instructed by Freshfields.

See Judgment