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Trial by few, not by many

I think almost everyone who works within family law – well, certainly everyone in my department – is aware of Sir Nicholas Mostyn’s current predicament. Sadly for the senior judge, it would seem that the newspaper-buying public are equally well informed and it’s easy to understand why. Read the full story here:His stature in the legal community, the affair with barrister Elizabeth Saunders and a previous life as ‘Mr Payout’: the divorce lawyer reputed for winning massive cash settlements for clients – all make his divorce especially newsworthy.

Sir Nicholas’ attempts to keep proceedings low key have had the inverse effect this last week. Having reportedly filed for a gagging order banning Lady Mostyn disclosing details to the press, the interpretation of many journalists is that the judge is either especially controlling or has something to hide.

However, his attempt to silence his wife is perhaps understandable.

As a judge, impartiality is essential. A person in Sir Nicholas’ position must be unaffected and unbiased at all times until a case has been put forward in a courtroom in its entirety. Coming forward as an adulterer, there’s the perceived risk that he may empathise with others before him in court. If Lady Mostyn puts forward even the smallest comment, the media circus that could ensue could make it impossible for her estranged husband to work again. A newspaper can easily develop a tiny piece of personal information into a complete character assassination, which maybe justifies his actions.

Of course, I think it’s vital that the court rooms remain fair and just; if any evidence comes to light that Sir Nicholas’s ability to oversee proceedings has been compromised, it should be treated very seriously indeed. However, if minute or insignificant aspects leading to the split are magnified by certain journalists, his reputation and livelihood could be marred beyond repair unnecessarily.

With four children and a soon-to-be ex wife to support, it’s in everybody’s best interests that the legal community makes its decision on the divorce and Sir Nicholas’ position behind closed doors.