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Magistrates can disclose addresses of police charged with misconduct

15 June 2010

Two senior Surrey police officers charged with misconduct have lost a judicial review against the decision of magistrates to release their addresses.

Chief superintendent Adrian Harper and superintendent Jonathan Johncox were charged with improperly interfering with prosecutions for speeding. They were suspended by Surrey police last year.

After they were charged, their lawyers made an application to Aldershot Magistrates’ Court that their home addresses should not be published.

Giving judgment in R (on the application of Harper) and R (on the application of Johncox) v Aldershot Magistrates’ Court and others [2010] EWHC 1319 Admin, Lord Justice Pill said counsel for the men argued that they were well known in the area.

“They had been responsible for the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes for over 25 years and there was a real danger that publication of their addresses would put them and their families at risk,” he said. “Both officers had been involved in covert operations.”

Pill LJ said the CPS was represented but did not address the court, and instead a journalist opposed the application. The magistrates retired and on their return refused it. An emergency application was made to the High Court and an injunction granted by Mr Justice Jack.

“The claimants submit that because of other information available about them, there is no damage to the administration of justice if their addresses are withheld,” Pill LJ said.

“The Press Association and CPS submit that because of the other information available, and the ease with which the addresses could be discovered, there is nothing to be gained by withholding the addresses.”

Pill LJ said that when making the application to the magistrates, the police officers’ lawyers “probably did not appreciate what was likely to be provoked”.

He said the submissions made by the journalist present seeking to establish the principle that addresses should not normally be withheld were “entirely proper” and the CPS “belatedly” agreed with them.

“There is, in my judgment, a burden on the claimants to establish not only that the derogation they seek is in the circumstances a very limited one but also that there is a justification in the particular case for interfering at all with the principle of open justice.”

He went on: “While the charges against the claimants are serious, they are unlikely to provoke that response by vigilantes which occasionally occurs in some categories of offence, for example, charges involving abuse of young children.”

He said that it was “inconceivable” that police officers would be deterred from performing their duties if it was known that their addresses would be disclosed.

“I would accept that the proper performance of police duties is, for present purposes, an integral part of the administration of justice but I can see no adverse impact in this case.”

Pill LJ held that article 2 of the ECHR (right to life) was not engaged by the case. He said he would have found it “very surprising” if the magistrates had reached a different conclusion.

“I do not doubt the genuineness of the concern felt by the claimants for the safety of themselves and their families. For the reasons given, however, the magistrates were right to refuse the application to withhold the claimants’ addresses.”

Lord Justice Pill refused the application and ordered discharge of the injunction made by Mr Justice Jack. Mrs Justice Rafferty agreed.

Chief Superintendent Harper led the investigation into the stabbing of Abigail Witchalls in Little Bookham, which left her paralyzed. Police said Richard Cazaly would have been charged had he not committed suicide.

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