British Columbia Court of Appeal
Practice Directive (Civil &
Title: Guidelines for Protecting
Privacy Interests in Reasons for Judgment
Issued: 19 September 2011
Cite as: Guidelines for Protecting Privacy Interests
in Reasons for Judgment (Civil & Criminal Practice Directive, 19
principle of open justice is a cornerstone of our judicial system. There
are, however, times when the privacy interests of a litigant outweigh the
public interest of open justice.
- The need to
protect the privacy of participants in the judicial system has led to
statutory and common law restrictions on publication of certain facts or
information. Where such restrictions apply, commercial case law reporters
have traditionally assumed the task of editing reasons for decision before
publication to ensure compliance with the law.
of decisions by the courts over the internet has raised new privacy issues
that must be addressed by the courts and the judges. Decisions involving
family law matters are particularly sensitive. Courts in Canada have
developed different solutions for protecting the privacy of the parties
and others involved in such litigation. Some courts do not publish family
law decisions at all; others publish only headnotes, using initials; while
others publish the decisions with full names.
- In 2002,
the Court of Appeal decided to continue to publish family law decisions
on our website, using initials to identify the parties in the style of
cause and the body of the decision. It soon became apparent that using
initials made identifying cases and conducting family law research
difficult. In October 2003, the Court unanimously approved the
return to the use of full names in family law judgments, except where
otherwise precluded by law, with the recommendation that judges be
encouraged to edit their decisions by including in the decision only
personal information which is relevant to the decision being made. While
the preparation of reasons for judgment is a discretionary matter and
unique to each judge, some guidance can be provided to assist in the task.
Four main objectives have been identified for each judge to consider when
preparing reasons for judgment:
compliance with the law;
- Openness of
the judicial system;
interests of the litigant;
- Cogency of
the reasons for judgment;
- In addition
to these principles, the following considerations may also be helpful in
editing decisions for privacy concerns:
a) The presence of personal data (e.g.
address, account numbers) and personal acquaintances’ information (e.g.
personal data of parents, workplace, school) in a decision represents a high
risk of violating privacy concerns;
b) With respect to cogency of the reasons
for decision, specific factual information (names of communities, accused
persons or persons acting in an official capacity) tends to have little or no
legal relevance in and of itself, while general factual information (age,
occupation, judicial district of residence) tends to be relevant;
c) The presence of general factual
information in a decision tends to represent a low risk of identification of a
person if personal data (e.g. name, address) and personal acquaintances have
d) As indicated, each judge is
independent and has complete discretion in preparing their reasons for
judgment. These items are presented for guidance purposes only.
Chief Justice Finch
for the Court
of Appeal of British Columbia
civil Practice Directive titled Guidelines for Protecting Privacy Interests
in Reasons for Judgment, dated 29 June 2004.