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Open Justice Principle Prevails in Employment Case

In a guideline decision, which involved the balancing of freedom of expression rights against an individual’s entitlement to privacy, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that a former BBC producer who faced unsubstantiated claims of sexual misbehaviour was not entitled to the benefit of an anonymity order.

The BBC had declined to renew the man’s contract after he was accused of carrying out a number of sexual assaults. His complaints of unfair dismissal and other wrongs were dismissed by an Employment Tribunal (ET) on the basis that he had made false statements which had misled his superiors about events in his past.

The allegations of sexual misconduct had not been fully investigated or proved and the ET took the view that it would be wrong for him to be identified in reports of the case. It ordered that he should be referred to only by initials on the basis that the public was likely to misunderstand his position and that revealing his name would have a devastating impact on his private life and future career.

In allowing the BBC’s appeal, however, the EAT found that it was inimical to the principle of open justice for the man to be shielded from publication of the ET’s decision in full. The mere publication of embarrassing or damaging material was not a good reason for placing restrictions on the reporting of the case.

The BBC was entitled to tell the world that its position had been vindicated and its right to freedom of expression had not been given sufficient weight. The EAT also noted that the man’s future employers would have an interest in knowing that he had been dishonest and misled the BBC about his past.