BBC Producer refused Anonymity Order
At any stage of the proceedings of an employment case, an Employment Tribunal can make an order to restrict public disclosure so far as it considers necessary in the interest of justice or, in order to protect the rights of any person. This often requires the tribunal to balance the principle of open justice and the rights to freedom of expression against the individual’s right to private life.
In the case of British Broadcasting Corporation v Roden UKEAT/0385/14, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) decided against extending an anonymity order to protect the identity of a BBC producer whose contract was not renewed by the BBC, after it learned about allegations of serious sexual assault made against him; the BBC was also informed by police that they had information suggesting that Mr Roden posed a risk to young men. The allegations were investigated by the BBC and a decision subsequently made to dismiss him. It later transpired that Mr Roden had been dismissed in his previous employment for gross misconduct following allegations against him by two young people in respect of which he had been arrested and bailed but never charged; he had failed to disclose this during the course of the BBC’s investigation.
Whilst the Employment Tribunal judge dismissed Mr Roden’s claim of unfair dismissal, he promulgated his judgement on an anonymised basis. The judge noted, in particular, that the public reaction to allegations of sexual offences can be ‘particularly virulent’ and that it ‘can be difficult for an individual to shake off such allegations once they have been made public’. The BBC appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) on the anonymity point.
The EAT allowed the appeal against the privacy order on the premise that the public interest in open justice is regarded as outweighing the privacy rights of a person suspected of a serious criminal offence. In particular, it was noted that the public has become accustomed to the early identification of such persons (even before charge in many cases) and is trusted to distinguish between an allegation and a finding of guilt. The fact that Mr Roden had chosen to bring proceedings against the BBC in a public tribunal, knowing that he had been dishonest about his earlier dismissal, also worked against him. The EAT directed that Mr Roden be identified by name, in the judgment.
It is interesting to compare this case to previous cases such as A v B  IRLR 844 which concerned paedophilia and unproven sexual allegations against a claimant; in that case, anonymity was granted due to the devastating consequences that would flow from unsubstantiated allegations of paedophilia becoming public knowledge. This recent case does however suggest that the courts are increasingly reluctant to overturn the principle of open justice.