How private is your divorce?
Nobody relishes the emotional distress that divorce frequently involves. For many people, reaching a financial settlement is more traumatic than the divorce itself, particularly if the issues have to be decided through the courts.
To add to this, there is now the increasing risk of having the case reported in the press. Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton currently find themselves in the centre of a debate about how much of the detail of their current divorce financial hearing can be reported as news.
Until relatively recently, press reporting was not a significant issue because family cases were generally heard in private. However, in the last few years the law has changed so that the press can usually attend hearings, but the extent to which they can report on the facts of individual cases is largely controlled by the judge hearing the case. To date, the restrictions have often been so strict that there is little point in the press reporting on family cases at all.
There are now two differing points of view amongst the senior judges. Some, such as Mr Justice Holman, take the view that restricting reporting is no longer appropriate in most cases, and that it is in the public interest to know what happens in the family courts. Other judges, including Mr Justice Mostyn, take the view that individuals should not have their private finances aired in the press unnecessarily.
This issue does not just apply to rock stars and models. The same principles apply to all hearings, in all courts. There is nothing to stop the Western Morning News or the Plymouth Herald seeking the court’s permission to report Plymouth cases, if they wished to do so.
Fortunately for Liam and Nicole, their case is before Mr Justice Mostyn. Had the case been heard by Mr Justice Holman, the press would almost certainly have been granted much wider rights to report the details.
The judges themselves acknowledge that the current uncertain situation is unsatisfactory, with Mr Justice Mostyn saying that it was a “serious understatement” … “to say that the law about the ability of the press to report ancillary relief proceedings which they are allowed to observe is a mess”.
The question of how much can be reported is now going to be considered by the Court of Appeal. Liam and Nicole may yet find more about their case in the papers.
Article by Ian Downing, partner and experienced family solicitor