Members of the press have been able to attend private family law proceedings since 2009 to act as a watchdog for the public and gain insight into how the family courts operate.
But the policy has continued to throw into question the privacy of cases heard in the family courts, highlighting the current lack of clarity on media reporting of these cases. In the divorce case of rock-star Liam Gallagher and his ex-wife Nicole Appleton, a judge decided that their details were to remain private after the former couple submitted a joint application for privacy in their financial remedy proceedings.
Media reporting on family law cases
Although the press are permitted to attend family law hearings, the current position is that journalists are barred from reporting on specific details of each case without permission.
The press are also prohibited from exposing the financial information provided to the court, both in a personal and business capacity, as well as viewing any documents used during hearings. An exception to this principle is when the information is already in the public domain, but any new information discussed during the divorce proceedings are not permitted to be reported.
Right to anonymity and confidentiality
In the Appleton v Gallagher case, Mr Justice Mostyn decided that being famous is not a sufficient enough reason to displace the presumption of anonymity and confidentiality, especially as the former couple haven’t discussed their divorce proceedings publicly themselves.
It has been argued by the media that the press have an important role to fulfil in society, as they act as the eyes and ears of the public when assuming the role of watchdog in the court room. It is for this reason some argue that divorce proceedings, and related financial cases, should be reported on.
This is a position supported by some judges sitting in the family court, who argue that greater transparency within proceedings will promote understanding and debate about the legal process, as well as ensuring justice is achieved.
A balancing act
The court has to conduct a balancing exercise, weighing up a party’s right to privacy against freedom of expression and the public interest.
In the Appleton v Gallagher case, Mr Justice Mostyn has granted permission for News Group Newspapers and The Press Association to appeal the decision, so while the case has secured the privacy of the former couple’s financial affairs for the time being, this most certainly isn’t the end of the debate about the issue of privacy in the family courts.
For more information on divorce and financial remedy proceedings, or to discuss any aspect of family law please contact Janine Hutson on 01772 258321