Judge bars naming of woman who died after refusing kidney treatment


Journalists have been barred from naming a dead woman in media reports.

The woman, who died in late 2015 aged 50, was at the centre of litigation in the Court of Protection - where judges analyse issues relating to sick and vulnerable people who might lack the mental capacity to make decisions about treatment.

A judge ruled in November that she could not be identified while alive.

Now another judge - Mr Justice Charles - has ruled that she must stay anonymous in death.

Mr Justice Charles said on Monday that his order would last until "further order of the court" - and he said it would cover reporting of an inquest into the woman's death.

The woman hit the headlines late in November when she refused life-saving kidney treatment after saying she had lost her ''sparkle'' and did not want to grow old.

Bosses at the London-based King's College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who had responsibility for the woman's care, had asked a judge to decide whether she had the mental capacity to make the decision to refuse treatment.

Mr Justice MacDonald had analysed evidence at a Court of Protection hearing in London in November - and concluded that she did have the mental capacity to decide to refuse treatment.

The woman, who had a number of daughters - including one in her teens - and a grandchild, had died shortly after Mr Justice MacDonald's ruling.

Lawyers representing one of the woman's daughters then argued that the woman should remain anonymous in death - to protect her relatives' rights to private and family life.

A number of national newspapers argued that such a move would be wrong and an unfair interference with freedom of expression.

Mr Justice Charles, the second most senior Court of Protection judge in England and Wales, then analysed legal argument about the issue of anonymity after death at a separate Court of Protection hearing in London in December.

Reporting restriction orders relating to Court of Protection cases which involved serious medical treatment issues could extend beyond the death of the subject of those proceedings, said the judge in a ruling published in Monday.

He said there was "no presumption or default position" that such orders should end on death.

Mr Justice Charles said he had to consider the rights the woman's children had to private and family life - rights enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"In this case the Article 8 rights of all of (the woman's) children are engaged," said Mr Justice Charles in his ruling.

"The essential reason for the engagement of those Article 8 rights is that the Court of Protection has invaded their private and family lives and made a finding as to its jurisdiction that has had a profound effect and impact on (the woman's) family and is based on evidence that relates to the private and family lives of (the woman) and her family - and, in particular, her children."

Mr Justice Charles said there had been a "significant" amount of reporting following the publication on Mr Justice MacDonald's ruling on the case on November 30.

He said the case was featured in a number of newspapers and had been discussed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme - a Guardian columnist had criticised the evidence of (the woman's) family and its acceptance by Mr Justice MacDonald.

Solicitors representing one of the woman's daughters received 24 press inquiries within three days of the publication of Mr Justice MacDonald's ruling - and around 40 people associated with the woman said they were approached by journalists.

Lawyers said the woman's adult daughters were "distressed by having to be involved in the Court of Protection proceedings, and by the extensive media interest in the information about (the woman) and their family which had emerged".

They said the case attracted "prurient interest" in the woman's "sexual and relationship history".

Lawyers said events had an "appalling impact" on the woman's youngest daughter - a teenager.

They said family photographs were published in a pixelated form.

Mr Justice Charles said evidence demonstrated that the woman's family were "understandably distressed" by "intensive and intrusive media attention".

He said "accurate, anonymised and fair reporting" - based on Mr Justice MacDonald's ruling - would have distressed the woman's family.

But he suggested that some journalists went further and added to that distress.

"It should have been clear to anyone with any compassion that the focus of much of the reporting on (the woman's) lifestyle, some of the pixelated photographs that were used, and the nature of some of the approaches and investigations pursued by journalists would greatly add to the distress of (her) family and in particular that of her adult daughters," said Mr Justice Charles.

"I am satisfied that it did so."

And the judge said he thought the woman's daughters were right to say that "much of the publicity was precipitated not only by a wish to report and comment on the bases on which the court reached its decision but also to attract prurient interest in their mother's sexual and relationship history".

Mr Justice Charles said allowing the woman to be identified in media reports would lead to "significantly" more distress.

He said: "To my mind, it is obvious that it is very likely, if not inevitable, that if (the woman) and members of her family were identified in it that both of the following would be significantly more distressing to the members of (the woman's) family and particularly all of her children - a repeat of the prurient aspects of the reporting that has taken place alone or coupled with the intrusive approach taken by some journalists to seeking information, and accurate and fair accounts of (the woman's) life, the decision of the Court of Protection on her capacity, her decision to refuse treatment and so to die and discussion on the issues of public interest that arise in respect of those decisions."

The judge said there was "compelling evidence" from family members and from a teacher that the identification of the woman in reports would "cause serious and possibly long-term harm and distress" to the woman's teenage daughter.

Mr Justice Charles said he had also decided to make an order barring the woman from being identified in any inquest reports.

"The essential question is ... whether, unless the court makes a further order, (the woman's) family should be at risk of publicity relating to the inquest that makes the connection between them and the Court of Protection proceedings and so effectively of suffering the harm and distress that any other reporting that identifies them and makes that link would bring," he said.

"The history of the prurient nature of some of the earlier reporting is a clear indicator that such reporting might be repeated. But, even if that risk is discounted, I have concluded that the balance comes down firmly in favour of extending the order to cover the inquest."