What can the press report about family finance cases?
This was a question that Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton, for once in agreement, asked Mr Justice Mostyn to determine.
Unlike the general public, accredited members of the press are permitted to attend family proceedings which are held in private unless they are excluded by order of the court. But just because they may attend, does not give them carte blanche to report everything that they see and hear.
In the Appleton/Gallagher case*, Mostyn J imposed a reporting restriction so that the names of the parties’ children could not be reported and none of their financial information could be published. In doing so Mostyn J expressed firm views about the importance of privacy in family finance cases. He noted that a separating couple engaged in court proceedings have a duty to each other and the court to give financial disclosure. They have a corresponding duty to keep those details to themselves. This is known as the “implied undertaking”. That duty, in his view, extends to the attending media.
Mostyn J's opinion however is far from unanimously held throughout the judiciary. Holman J for example has indicated that family finance cases that come before him will generally be held in open court which would allow any member of the public to observe the proceedings, not just the press. For many people this is an unattractive prospect and there is a suggestion that so far as possible parties and their lawyers have done all they can to avoid having their cases heard by certain judges who are known to be particularly pro-transparency.
In another recent high profile case involving Duncan Bannatyne it was stressed that a party who misleads the court forfeits rights to privacy that he might otherwise have, because of the public interest in promoting honesty in court proceedings.
There is undoubtedly a tension between individual privacy and public, open justice which event the judiciary cannot agree upon. We wait to see whether the Court of Appeal will provide clearer guidance.
However if you want to be certain that details of your family case do not appear in print, from the local rag to the national broadsheets, the answer is not to go to court. There are numerous ways of resolving family disputes from mediation to arbitration and a good family lawyer will help you to find the right option for you and support you through the process.
*Appleton & Anor v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Anor  EWHC 2689 (Fam)
Associated Newspapers Ltd v Bannatyne & Ors  EWHC 3467 (Ch)).