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Judge refuses anonymity bid, rejects no jurisdiction claim in dispute between council and ex-employee over downloading of confidential information

A High Court judge has refused to grant an anonymity order and rejected a submission that his court had no jurisdiction in a case involving Plymouth City Council and defendant ABC.

HHJ Paul Matthews, sitting as a judge of the High Court, said in Plymouth City Council v ABC [2022] EWHC 1670 (Ch) that he refused a second application for an anonymity order having rejected a first and that the court had jurisdiction in this case.

Plymouth alleged former special educational needs and disability department employee ABC downloaded personal data and confidential information without its consent shortly before she was due to be made redundant.

Having rejected anonymity the judge said he could not decide on a second application “unless there is some good reason to do so”.

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He said: “The main problem which the defendant faces is that her second application was made shortly after, and apparently in direct response to, my decision on the first application,”

ABC advanced numerous grounds including breaches of procedural rules and a decline in her health.

The judge said a doctor’s letter added nothing material to the evidence he had earlier considered and a reference to counselling sessions turned out to refer to her father's health condition.

"Although this is undoubtedly a new development, I cannot see how it materially affects the application for anonymity,” he said.

“The defendant is and continues to be unwell. If counselling is provided to her, it is not being provided in order to make things worse, but to improve them.”

Dismissing all the grounds, the judge said: “An applicant for an anonymity order is not entitled to have several bites of the cherry, coming back each time with more evidence.”

He also dismissed a lengthy series of arguments as to whether the court had jurisdiction.

ABC claimed there had been irregular service of proceedings as the house number was shown wrongly.

The judge said: “The envelope enclosing the documents for service (completed by the court) was correctly addressed…in circumstances where the proceedings have been posted in an envelope correctly addressed, the fact that the claim form itself gives an incorrect address does not in any way make the service of the proceedings irregular. Such a mistake has caused no prejudice.”

ABC also complained that Plymouth’s assistant head of legal services signed the claim form on its behalf, “although it was unclear whether she had the authority to represent the claimant in that capacity".

She further complained the particulars of claim were drafted by a barrister who was not authorised to conduct litigation and neither completed the statement of truth.

HHJ Matthews said the assistant head is a solicitor and her “express authority will probably be governed by her contract of employment, but there will also be questions of implied authority and ostensible authority, and these will be governed in the same way as with solicitors in private practice”.

He went on: “I do not understand the defendant's complaint that the statement of truth in the particulars of claim has not been signed by [the assistant head]. On the copy which I have looked at on the court file her signature appears immediately after the statement of her full name and before the statement of her status as ‘legal representative’ and “'assistant head of legal services’.

He dismissed other points including that neither signature of the witnesses to their witness statements as a ‘wet' signature, which the judge called “the worst kind of formalist objection”, but said ABC could remain anonymous until any appeals on the point were settled.

Mark Smulian

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