30 September 2015
Can the Media Publish or Comment on Divorce Judgements?
Family Lawyer Jonathan Casey examines privacy, transparency and Family Court proceedings and asks if your divorce judgement can be published, and if so, what can the media comment on?
There has been discussion in parliament and the press recently about the transparency of Family Courts. Newspaper debate has brought into question the eligibility of the media attending proceedings at Family Courts. Most recently this has been highlighted by the celebrity divorce of Nicole Appleton and Liam Gallagher. Generally, Journalists are allowed to attend financial hearings but are limited in what they can report.
Ms Appleton and Mr Gallagher made an application to exclude the press from the Family Court. The judgement by Mr Justice Mostyn at the High Court has now been printed. It provides detail of the appropriate reporting of the parties’ proceedings and what may be published. It could be said that the Appleton-Gallagher case ties in well with the issue of what can be published. The House of Commons Report on confidentiality and openness in the Family Courts does as well. This report provides a history of recent changes to the transparency of the Family Courts, including the recent direction on the publication of judgements and media attention.
The press have been restricted on reporting of the Appleton-Gallagher ancillary relief proceedings. Mr Justice Mostyn slightly amended his previous Order about reporting divorce judgements, so as to loosen these restrictions. The amendment basically means that any knowledge that is already in the public domain can be commented upon and published. Mr Justice Mostyn has left it open to the discretion of a District Judge who heard the parties ancillary relief/ financial proceedings, as to whether his final judgement will be published or edited in order to maintain the celebrities’ privacy.
Mr Justice Mostyn commented on the laws on reporting stating, “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”.
Undoubtedly, this is an area of law open to further development and clarification. We’ll have to wait and see how it progresses. Many news journals would be very interested in the content of the Appleton-Gallagher judgement.
It will be interesting to see whether the judgement will be made available or reported with anonymity. If the divorce judgement is published, I wonder what action former couples lawyers will take. Will they ask the Court to reconsider how edits are made? The decision will be made by the District Judge who has heard the celebrity couple’s financial case at London’s Central Family Court. Whatever that decision is, it will surely add to this debate and will be well reported, so watch this space.
If you need and advice in relation to divorce, reaching a financial agreement after your divorce or civil partnership breakdown, or advice on privacy in the Family Court, we can advise you on the different options that are open to you. Slater and Gordon Lawyers have the biggest team of Family Lawyers in England and Wales. Call our Divorce Solicitors for a consultation on Freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online.
Jonathan Casey is a Family Law Solicitor with Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.