Personal Injury Blog

Court shields identity of plaintiff saying publicity “could be harmful to his mental health”

In reasons for judgment released today, the court in G.P. v. W.B., 2017 BCSC 297, ordered the names of both the plaintiff and defendant in a personal injury action iniitialized, and the court file sealed, as the court found that “publicity which identifies [the plaintiff] could definitely be harmful to [the plaintiff’s] mental health“.  The plaintiff in G.B. had long-standing mental health issues, including bi-polar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.  On his own motion, the trial judge questioned the plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist whether it was possible that “publicity would affect G.P.’s mental well-being”.  The psychiatrist said it might.  On this basis the court raised the issue with counsel, and the order was subsequently made.  In finding this “exceptional” order to be justified, Mr. Justice Funt said as follows:

[13]         At the conclusion of his expert testimony, I asked Dr. H. Gopinath, G.P.’s psychiatrist, whether publicity would affect G.P.’s mental well-being. Dr. Gopinath testified that publicity which identifies G.P. could definitely be harmful to G.P.’s mental health.

[14]         I subsequently raised with counsel whether the Court should anonymize the names of the parties and the witnesses by initializing their names in the reasons for judgment (except for the names of doctors) and whether the file should be sealed.

[15]         G.P.’s counsel asked for the names in the reasons for judgment to be initialized as I had suggested and that the file be sealed. Defendants’ counsel took no position. Accordingly, I made the necessary order. Authority for such an exceptional approach and order may be found in C.W. v. L.G.M., 2004 BCSC 1499 at paras. 6 to 9 and 25 and C.P. v. RBC Life Insurance Company, 2014 BCSC 117, appeal dismissed except for a variation of costs, 2015 BCCA 30, leave to appeal ref’d.

[16]         G.P.’s counsel co‑ordinated the sealing in accordance with Practice Direction PD – 35 Sealing Orders in Civil and Family Proceedings. The sealing order allows members of the public or the press to apply upon reasonable notice to counsel to have parts of the file unsealed.  The Court must balance transparency of the proceedings with the medically recognized potential of serious mental harm to G.P.

The full decision can be found here:  http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/02/2017BCSC0297.htm