Posted by Patrick Hart, Partner
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Judges clash over divorce case privacy
Mr Justice Holman and Mr Justice Mostyn, who both sit in the Family Division of the High Court in London where multimillion-pound divorce battles are heard, do not agree on matters of privacy.
Mr Justice Holman, who assesses financial disputes between separated couples at public hearings, says there is a “pressing need” for more openness. In comparison, Mr Justice Mostyn argues that such proceedings are “quintessentially private business”.
Mr Justice Holman expressed his opinion in a ruling on a case in open court, which permitted reporters to name the adults involved.
It is not the first time he has taken to sitting in open court rather than in private, with the result that the parties’ anonymity is lost.
In Luckwell v Limata, a bitter divorce battle was conducted entirely in public with no restriction on what could be reported. In Fields v Fields in June this year Holman repeated his view “for more openness” in financial cases, while bemoaning the failure of the parties to resolve their dispute without spending a million pounds on fighting in court.
Holman said that “To permit the presence of accredited journalists, but then tightly to restrict what they can report, creates a mere illusion of transparency,” and went on to sit in open court.
He takes the view that couples who wish to resolve their disputes in private have many opportunities to do so, either earlier in the court process (where a dispute resolution hearing is held at which the press may not attend) or through arbitration or mediation.
In stark contrast, Mr Justice Mostyn prohibited reporters from identifying the people involved in a case he was overseeing and opted to consider the evidence at a private hearing.
He says that, although he does not dispute the need for transparency, revealing the intimate details of people’s private lives is an altogether different matter.
Mostyn says 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”.
And so, in Mostyn’s court these sorts of disputes are “private business” where couples can be quite confident of anonymity, whilst in Holman’s court they are disputes where the parties are likely to be publicly named and all the details published in a judgment and possibly in the press.
At Royds, our experienced family law department are able to advise on all aspects of the divorce process. We will work closely with clients to achieve the best possible outcome. For more information, please visit or contact Patrick Hart or Vandana Chitroda.