The reporting restrictions around the financial elements of Boris Johnson’s recent divorce has once again highlighted the inconsistency with which they are applied in the family court.
In a recent article in the Times, Stephen Foster highlighted some of the issues that face couples who may want to keep the details of their private lives from being published by the media.
Currently, there are different approaches to this issue by High Court judges and privacy cannot be guaranteed. Stephen comments:
“On one side are judges who are determined to sit in open court to hear a financial case, allowing the parties to be named and almost all details to be reported. On the other are those who maintain that in family cases it is beneficial for all involved for matters to remain private.”
This has not always been the case, as until recently financial proceedings were confidential unless in matters of specific public interest. Judgments were also routinely anonymised, and Stephen says this helped to prevent “jigsaw identification”.
The media were allowed into the family court from 2009, subject to reporting restrictions. Stephen adds:
“Increasingly, even getting a privacy-leaning judge is no guarantee against publicity since, if a case has sufficient public interest appeal, any member of the press in court will inevitably apply for permission to report it.”
There is great disparity between judges with regards to whether news outlets can apply for reporting restrictions to be lifted . This can sometimes impact resolution methods that couples pursue to resolve their dispute, and can cause a great deal of stress. Stephen concludes:
“Most divorcing couples could do without the added anxiety of not knowing whether intimate details of their private disputes and finances will be laid bare in open court for all to see, but for high-profile individuals such as Boris Johnson — who has already announced that he is to marry for a third time — the stakes are even higher.”
To read the full article in The Times, please click here.
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