Press verses Privacy in Divorce Cases
Jennifer Allen, Director within the family team of Hughes Paddison, reports on a recent attempt made to impose a blanket ban on reporting on one of the UK’s largest divorce cases. This ban was rejected by the High Court Judge.
In this case the wife (Jamie Cooper-Hohn, 49, and one of the country’s biggest philanthropists) married Sir Christopher Hohn (47 and the billionaire founder of The Children’s Investment Fund Management UK LLP). The couple met at Harvard University and married in 1995. They were married for 17 years and during the marriage they had four children (including triplets). During the marriage the couple both worked at building one of the world’s largest Charitable Foundations. In March 2012 the wife petitioned for divorce. The value of the matrimonial pot was worth at least £760 million, making it one of the largest matrimonial financial cases in London.
Anthony Hutton, representing the media, applied for reporting restrictions to be lifted in view of the interest surrounding this case. He argued that the Judicial Proceedings (regulation of reports) Act 1926 was designed to “prevent injury to public morals” and was being misapplied as a means of seeking to enforce privacy in divorce proceedings. Of course the purpose of the Act was to restrict reporting salacious details in divorce cases.
Guy Vassell-Adams acted as Counsel for the husband. He told the Court that it was not appropriate nor should it be expected that his client should lay bear the complex details of the financial circumstances if the case was at risk of being reported.
Mrs Justice Roberts refused to support a blanket ban on all reporting and stated that she had to perform a balancing exercise between the two competing convention rights by assessing the requirement of confidentiality and privacy for those involved in the case in contrast to the principles of open justice and press freedom.
Mrs Justice Roberts permitted that everything conducted in a private hearing could be published for the first time (other than the confidential and commercial sensitive financial information), unless details were already in the public domain, in which they can be re-reported. Until 2009 the press were excluded entirely from hearing cases in the Family Courts which deal with divorce proceedings. This latest decisions makes a major step forward in allowing greater transparency and press reporting. This case has now become a test case which has significantly expanded the media’s ability to report on matrimonial proceedings.
Should you have any questions regarding media in family cases, please contact Jennifer Allen in the family team.