Anonymous litigant-in-person ordered to reveal his identity
In media litigation, it is not uncommon for a claimant to be anonymised (this is particularly the case in proceedings for breach of confidence and/or misuse of private information), but what is remarkable about the case of ABC v Google Inc.  EWHC 137 (QB) is that the claimant has managed to conceal his identity from his opponent, and even from judges and court staff, for more than nine months.
The claim ran into serious difficulties from the outset. However, the Claimant “ABC”, as a litigant-in-person, has been afforded accommodating treatment by the court. In January 2018, he issued an application for an interim injunction requiring Google to block access to historic news reports about him. These reports were being published on websites that were hosted by Blogger.com, a blog-publishing website, which is operated and controlled by Google.
Unfortunately, however, ABC had issued his application against Google Inc, a company that no longer existed (Google Inc became Google LLC in 2017, following a change in the company’s corporate structure), and he had tried to effect service on a completely separate corporate entity, Google (UK) Limited, at its principal place of business in London. Unsurprisingly, his application for an injunction was dismissed.
Last week, ABC attended another court hearing and he has, unfortunately, run into more difficulties. Mr Justice Nicklin noted that ABC has still not complied with a court order, made in December 2017, which required him to inform Google of his true identity. The Judge commented that “this is the first case I’ve encountered where I’ve not known the identity of a litigant I’m speaking to”. ABC protested that this a "complex” area of law and that he was not being intentionally disobedient.
However, after making a number of allowances, it seems that the court has finally lost patience with ABC. Mr Justice Nicklin has ordered that he must provide his identity to Google within seven days, failing which his claim will be struck out. The Judge also gave summary approval of Google’s legal costs, which ABC will be ordered to pay in the event the claim is struck out.
This case provides a timely reminder of the importance (and value) of obtaining specialist advice in media disputes. Whilst litigants may be put off instructing solicitors to conduct litigation because of cost, even a one-off consultation at the outset of a case (before a claim is asserted) may reduce the chances of fatal and costly mistakes being made.
Click here to find out how Brett Wilson LLP solicitors can assist you if you would like advice in respect of a claim for defamation, malicious falsehood or breach of confidence.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.