Transparency in family law proceedings

Rule 27.10 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR) provides that financial proceedings must be heard in private. There has, however, been a recent drive for change to this rule in order to bring about greater transparency, improve public understanding and increase confidence in the court system. Sir James Munby issued Practice Guidance in 2014 which sought to bring about a significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments in the Family Courts and the Court of Protection.

Family Procedure Rules

Rule 27.11(2) FPR provides an exception to the rule in 27.10 for “duly accredited representatives of news gathering and reporting organisations” to attend court at private hearings. In the recent case of DL v SL [2015], the press applied to lift the order which preserved the anonymity of the parties during financial proceedings. The balance between Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (right to privacy) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) was discussed. Mostyn J held that “there are some categories of court business, which are so personal and private that in almost every case where anonymisation is sought the right to privacy will trump the right to unfettered freedom of expression”. Similarly in the case of Appleton v Gallagher [2016], the balance between Article 8 and Article 10 was discussed and Mostyn J allowed the fact that the parties were engaged in proceedings to be made public and enabled the press to photograph the parties arriving and leaving court but nothing more.

This issue has since been brought to light in the Ryan Giggs divorce from his wife Stacey Giggs where both parties have sought press reporting restrictions in respect of their ancillary relief proceedings. The media have, however, been allowed to report the names of the parties and that they are engaged in financial proceedings.

Therefore, although the proposals made by the Practice Guidance suggest that greater transparency is required in family law proceedings, the recent case law advocates that increased transparency is not always appropriate and that the right to privacy will prevail.

If you have concerns regarding the potential press coverage of financial proceedings in the Family Court, please contact our specialist Family Law Team on 01225 750000.

Mogers Drewett

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