By Steven | June 21, 2008
Just how much suppressing are the courts doing? In the past it’s been hard to tell, because statistics have been pretty patchy. But in an admirably prompt response to my request for some statistical information, the Ministry of Justice compiled some data for me from their records.
Name suppression is the perennial hot issue. Is permanent name suppression given out like lollies? In short: no. Out of about 150,000 criminal cases each year, there are about 730 final name suppressions in the District Court and about 35 in the High Court. There are about three times as many interim name suppression orders (five times as many in the High Court), but these are less significant since the media can eventually report them.
The numbers have been fairly constant over the past five years during which these statistics have been recorded.
In general, this doesn’t include the suppression that arises by operation of the law (for child witnesses and victims of sex offences, for example) though it’s possible that sometimes a judge will make a formal order to underscore the importance of the suppression. In addition, final orders may be made after interim ones expire, so there’s some effective double-counting there. Consequently, there probably aren’t as many different discretionary name suppressions as the above figures suggest.
Another caveat: it’s not clear that these records pick up all the suppression orders made. It seems likely that most of them are captured, though.
It’s not always (or not only) names that get suppressed. Sometimes facts (such as past convictions or contested evidence) can be suppressed, too. The courts have a discretion to suppress evidence or submissions. How often is that exercised? Not too often. About 440 times a year, overwhelmingly in the District Court. Only about a 100 of these each year are permanent.
The Ministry even managed to dig up some stats about civil cases. Name suppression has been ordered in 23 DC cases and 87 HC cases in the past 5 years. There’s no break-down of interim and permanent orders, and no explanation of the circumstances of such orders, so they’re a bit difficult to analyse. The stats also list all of two cases in which facts have been suppressed in the last five years.
I’m a bit sceptical about the civil figures, since they don’t include the one case that I know about - the suppression orders relating to various factual matters (as well as the plaintiff’s name) in the High Court litigation over Anne Hunt’s book. Still, it does suggest that such orders are probably pretty rare, which is some comfort.
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