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Liam Gallagher's divorce to be kept private, but judge criticises lack of clarity on media reporting

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, after the couple made a joint application for privacy known as financial remedy proceedings.

Christian Bertrand

Mr Justice Mostyn relaxed two existing interim injunctions, thereby allowing the press to attend the hearings but prohibiting them from reporting details of the parties' financial affairs. He said details of their children's lives should also remain private.

In his written judgment, Mr Justice Mostyn said the parties had been forced to provide extensive financial information for the purposes of the proceedings on the basis that it would remain private.  

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, Mr Justice Mostyn said that it did not extend to reporting everything they heard.

He said his comments follow ‘hard on the heels’ of his judgment in the case of DL-v-SL, in which he made an order preserving the anonymity of the parties and securing their privacy in respect of personal and business financial affairs. 

Mr Justice Mostyn's approach is contrary to some other members of the family court judiciary. In the recent divorce of Richard and Ekaterina Fields, Mr Justice Holman, another High Court judge, ordered the financial dispute to be heard in open court. The couple were subsequently subjected to extensive press coverage.

The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard all published details of the case. Under the headline ‘Russian beauty queen received £630,000 divorce pay out from her first husband - after demanding £500,000 from her now estranged second husband to leave him’, the MailOnline commented on the couple's bank balances, health issues and lifestyle during the marriage.

In considering the press intrusion on the couple, Mr Justice Holman said: ‘I regret their distress; but it cannot, in my view, override the importance of court proceedings being … open and transparent.’

Mr Justice Holman's approach was criticised by Sir Paul Coleridge, a former family High Court judge, and founder of the Marriage Foundation: ‘It is very unfair, because it means that the threat of an open hearing can be used as a weapon to force settlement.’

Many of the judiciary are calling for clarification on the issue of privacy, as Mr Justice Mostyn said in his judgment yesterday: ‘To say that the law about the ability of the press to report ancillary relief proceedings [now called financial remedy proceedings] which they are allowed to observe is a mess would be a serious understatement.’

He called on the Court of Appeal to consider the divergence of opinion between judges as to privacy and reporting.

Until there is more certainty, divorcing couples are best advised to avoid using the courts. Non-court based processes, such as mediation and arbitration, enable couples to maintain privacy and control while dealing with complex financial settlements on divorce. This is surely a happier prospect for any couple going through divorce. Even the rich and famous need a break from the headlines sometimes.

Vanessa Friend is a family solicitor and associate at Hunters, incorporating May, May & Merrimans.

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01 October 2015

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