By its nature, the court system is intended to be open to the public, with information about litigants available to everyone. The court is presumed to be open to the public. However, sometimes clients wish a little more privacy for any number of reasons and ask how that might be accomplished.
The most common way to maintain some privacy in a court action is to amend the style of cause (Name vs. Name) by substituting the parties’ initials instead of their full names. Unfortunately, there is no particular rule of court or legislation that permits this as of right. Instead, there are three ways this is done.
First, a judge or master can unilaterally make the decision to substitute initials. This is uncommon, but in family cases involving sensitive issues, may be ordered. Second, both parties can agree to substitute initials for names. This is the most common manner in which pleadings are amended.
Finally, the party wishing to be anonymous in the eyes of the public may bring an application before the court. Before directing the use of initials, the court must be satisfied that the party’s interest in privacy outweighs the court’s interest in preserving openness and freedom in the courts. It is not enough that a party might be embarrassed by allegations or testimony made in the course of the litigation. The concerns must be stronger. For example, if there would be a deleterious effect on the party’s livelihood or reputation, it may be sufficient.
As a cautionary note, an application to substitute initials in the style of cause should be brought as soon as it is practicable and certainly before any damaging information or statements are disclosed through the pleadings in the matter.