In the Matter of the Administration of the Estate of Jimmy Saville (Feb 2014)
The court determined that two applications in relation to the estate of Jimmy Savile should be heard in public.
The court had to determine whether two applications in relation to the estate of Jimmy Savile (J) should be heard in public.
One application was brought by the executor (B) of J's will, seeking various directions in relation to the administration of J's estate and the execution of his will. The second was an application brought by one of the beneficiaries under the will, known as "the trust" (T), seeking to remove the existing executor and replace it with an alternative. It was T's case that the applications should be heard in private; the representatives of the Secretary of State for Health, the BBC and the personal injury claimants, namely those claimants bringing personal injury claims against the estate in respect of alleged incidences of sexual abuse, could be present, but the public should be excluded. The secretary of state, the BBC and the personal injury claimants wanted the applications to proceed in public, but accepted that there might be occasions when the applications had to be heard in private.
T submitted that if the main part of the hearing proceeded in public, that would, in effect, give rise to an illegitimate and inappropriate recruiting exercise for possible further claimants to bring claims against J's estate, which might be spurious and which would therefore involve the estate incurring costs to scrutinise and meet those claims.
The general rule in CPR r.39.2(1) was that a hearing was to be in public. The importance of that principle of open justice was considerable. It would only be outweighed in certain limited circumstances identified in r.39.2(3) where particularly good reason was shown why the ends of justice would be defeated if a case proceeded in the presence of the public. In the instant case, there was no reason why the bulk of the hearing should proceed in private, to the exclusion of the public. There could have been few cases where the level of publicity in relation to the possibility of claims being brought against a deceased's estate had reached the level of intensity and the extent that had occurred in relation to J's estate. The notion that allowing the hearing to proceed for the most part in public would make any material contribution to the possibility of further claimants coming forward was fanciful. The public being able to hear reasoned legal argument in the course of the hearing would not constitute improper advertising or recruitment for claims. Moreover, there was nothing that the court could do that would prevent solicitors' firms from seeking to take whatever steps might lawfully be available to them to encourage claimants to come forward. There was nothing wrong with the instant proceedings being made available to scrutiny by the public. On the contrary, it was in the interests of the principle of open justice that the applications should be heard, insofar as it was possible to do so without intruding upon matters which ought not to be known to the personal injury claimants, the BBC and the secretary of state, in the presence of the public, just as it proceeded in the presence of representatives of those parties. Accordingly, the application for the hearing to proceed generally in private and with the public being excluded would be dismissed. There might come a time in the course of the hearing when material would need to be considered in the absence of the public and the representatives for the personal injury claimants, the secretary of state and the BBC. There would be opportunity later in the hearing to consider whether a proper basis had been made out for the court to proceed in private at that stage (see paras 8-12 of judgment).