Powers of the Press in divorce reporting
6 October 2015 by Charlotte Knappett
A High Court judge has ruled that the financial details of Liam Gallagher’s divorce to singer Nicola Appleton cannot be reported in the press unless it is in the public domain already, after the couple made a joint application for privacy. In doing so, Justice Mostyn acknowledged that regulations concerning media reporting of how divorcing couples divide up their disputed assets are chaotic.
Since 2009, the press have been allowed to attend family court hearings held in private as a ‘watchdog’ to observe how the courts operate. While acknowledging this right, Justice Mostyn said that it did not extend to reporting everything they heard. Without access to court documents, he said, “the press can hardly be expected to be able to report the case intelligibly or even-handedly”.
Whilst expressing approval of the decision of the Court of Appeal, in Clibbery v Allan (No 2)  EWCA Civ 45 which provided the rationale for the “long-accepted prohibition on publication of private ancillary relief proceedings held in chambers”, he also noted that financial remedy proceedings are subject to a wider scope of disclosure than in a civil dispute. He stated “you basically have to disclose everything about your economic life”, however “information compulsorily extracted by one party from the other is subject to an implied undertaking that it will not be used for any purpose other than the proceedings”. A party telling the press what the other party had said in the witness box would be in contempt of court, as would a third party who subsequently published what had been said.
Justice Mostyn said that following the introduction of FPR 27.11 which now permits the admission of the press, but not the public, Parliament had specifically maintained these proceedings as private. He stated “It is inconceivable that Parliament could have intended to destroy the effect of the implied undertaking when it allowed the press to observe these private proceedings as a watchdog”.
It has been reported that some of the judiciary are calling for clarification on the issue of privacy, as Justice Mostyn said in his judgment yesterday, ‘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.’