High Court gives important judgment on duty of candour


The Judge in charge of the Administrative Court, Mr Justice Swift, has 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 has arisen 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 normally be redacted. They also sought to argue that 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.

Mr Justice Swift held that as a matter of principle documents disclosed in judicial review proceedings ought not to be redacted without good reason. The “cards face up” approach to disclosure required that, in general, the names of civil servants involved in decisions should be disclosed. Such disclosure was also required to make documents intelligible.

In terms of procedure, Mr Justice Swift held that, in future, government departments should explain the reasons for any redactions in a witness statement at the time the redacted documents were disclosed.  This would allow the claimant to decide, on an informed basis, whether to challenge them.

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

See Judgment [2023] EWHC 2930 Admin