The double killer, in his 40s, who can only be referred to as “C”, succeeded in his challenge to a refusal of the Court of Appeal to grant him anonymity in legal proceedings.
C, who has had mental health problems for much of his life, was released from a secure psychiatric unit last October, just days before the Supreme Court began considering his case.
The court was told the Parole Board had agreed to his release on licence, and he was in the process of changing his name to start a new life.
Lady Hale, the court’s deputy president, ruled that an anonymity order was “necessary in the interests of this particular patient”.
The judge described C’s crime as “horrendous” and said it had caused “incalculable distress to the families of the victims”.
But without anonymity there was “a very real risk that the progress he has made during his long years of treatment in hospital would be put in jeopardy and his reintegration in the community, which was an important purpose of his transfer to hospital, will not succeed”.
The anonymity issue arose after C applied for a High Court judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision – made well before C eventually won parole – refusing him unescorted leave in the community.
Stephen Knafler QC, appearing for C, accepted that his crimes – the killing of an ex-girlfriend and her new companion – were “high up on the scale of horrific”.
But Mr Knafler argued legal challenges involving mental health patients should be held in private – or at least with the individual’s identity protected.
The case raised a point of general public importance – whether mental health patients are entitled to anonymity when involved in legal proceedings connected with their detention, care or treatment under the 1983 Mental Health Act, said the QC.
A High Court judge and three appeal court judges rejected the pleas for anonymity.
But five Supreme Court judges – Lady Hale sitting with Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Carnwath and Lord Hughes – unanimously allowed C’s last-ditch challenge to the highest court in the land.
Lady Hale said: “There is a long-standing practice that certain classes of people, principally children and mental patients, should not be named in proceedings about their care, treatment and property.”
It would be wrong to presume an order should be made “in every case”, and a balance had to be struck, said the judge.
The public had a right to know what was going on in the courts, particularly in cases involving notorious criminals, and needed to be reassured sensible decisions were being made.
But that “right to know” had to be balanced against the potential harm the disclosure of a patient’s identity could cause to the patient “and perhaps also the hospital, those treating him and other patients”.
The purpose of detention in a psychiatric hospital for treatment was “to make the patient better, so that he is no longer a risk either to himself or to others”.
“That whole therapeutic exercise may be put in jeopardy if confidential information is disclosed in a way which enables the public to identify the patient.”
The judge said victims of crime had certain rights under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
“These rights, though limited, should enable the providers (of probation services) to reassure the victims’ families in this case that the arrangements made for the discharge of the patient will not put them at risk in any way.”
Referring to C’s change of name after his case received a high level of media attention, the judge said: “He is much more likely to be able to lead a successful life in the community if his identity is not generally known.
“The risk of ‘jigsaw’ identification, of people putting two and two together, will remain despite the change of name.
“Putting all the factors into the balance, I conclude that an anonymity order is necessary in the interests of this particular patient.”