Media Reporting of Family Cases - The Debate Heats Up!

The increasing ability of the media to report family proceedings has given rise to judicial differences of opinion in respect of the difficult balance to be struck between individual privacy rights and the benefits of enhanced public scrutiny. In one case, a High Court judge has called for the Court of Appeal to resolve that burning issue.

In the context of financial proceedings arising from a 'big money' divorce, members of the press had asked for reporting restrictions to be lifted so that the parties could be publicly named and details of their personal lives and finances published. The application was resisted by the parties' legal teams.

The judge accepted that the media acts as the eyes and ears of the public in court and that reporting of such cases is necessary to maintain confidence in the judicial process. However, there was a great difference between reporting how a case is conducted, and the legal points raised, and laying bare intimate details of the parties' private lives.

Their financial affairs – which they had been required to disclose in detail in order to ensure a just resolution of the case – were also their 'private business' and were not a proper subject for public scrutiny. The judge noted the risk that the prospect of full publicity could discourage divorcing couples from seeking justice in open court and force them into reaching unfair settlements.

In those circumstances, the judge banned publication of the parties' names or financial information concerning them, whether of a private or business nature, save where such information was already in the public domain. He noted the 'very unhelpful' divergence of judicial views on reporting restrictions in family cases and urged the Court of Appeal to devise and promulgate a common approach.