When is it appropriate for the media to report financial details of a divorce? This question was addressed by Mr Justice Mostyn of the High Court recently in relation to the divorce between Nicole Appleton and Liam Gallagher.
In his judgment, Mostyn J observed that “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 would be a serious understatement”. The Family Procedure Rules state that financial remedy hearings, where the court decides how to split the money and property of a divorced couple, should be private but allow journalists to attend. Beyond this, the current law does not make it clear when the right of the public to know and understand what is happening in courts funded by tax payers trumps the right of the divorcing couple who want to keep their personal details private.
Mostyn J’s view is that journalists may attend hearings but their reporting must not identify the names and locations of the parties or reveal any of their financial information, save to the extent the information is already in the public domain. Whilst the risk of information being reported might put pressure on a party to settle, it may also have the effect of preventing open disclosure of financial information within proceedings. Given the effectiveness of financial remedy proceedings depends greatly on both parties being completely open and honest about their financial position, this is a serious consideration.
The alternative for wealthy, well-known couples who are divorcing is to settle their finances outside of the court. Various options are available including mediation and arbitration as well as the traditional approach of negotiating through lawyers. Whilst most cases settle outside of court, there will always be a minority of protracted cases, which won’t. In these circumstances thought has to be given to what steps can be taken to protect the privacy of high profile clients who might be of interest to the public.
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