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Privacy in Family Law Proceedings

The question of privacy in family law proceedings was considered by the courts recently in the high profile case of Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton. Both had lived their lives in the public eye for many years and indeed courted attention (no pun intended) but, when it came to their divorce, they wanted to keep a very low profile.

They met in 2000 when Gallagher was lead singer in ‘Oasis’ and Appleton was with girl band ‘All Saints’. They married in 2008. In 2013 their marriage collapsed following revelations that Gallagher was expecting a child with an American journalist with whom he’d had an affair. They divorced in 2014 and have since then been trying to sort a financial settlement. Where discussions and negotiations are unsuccessful, it is left to the court to decide on financial settlement and the proceedings issued in this case for that purpose were the subject of that recent publicity.

Prior to April 2009, family law cases were held in private with generally only the parties, and their legal representatives being allowed to attend. Changes to the rules governing family cases came into effect on 27th April 2009, one of which permitted the admission of the press, although not the public, into private family law hearings. Where previously the outcome of cases of interest were ‘reported’ after their conclusion, in law reports and sometimes in the news media, those involving celebrities or well known individuals were often reported on an anonymised basis. After 2009 however it became common for members of the press to attend hearings during the course of the case when they became aware of the individuals involved..

Having granted access to the press, the rules do though allow a party to make an application for an order preventing press attendance which is what Gallagher and Appleton did here by way of a joint application.

The court has the power to direct that the press shall not attend a hearing where it is satisfied that this is necessary in the interests of any child concerned in the proceedings, for the safety or protection of a party or witness, or for the orderly conduct of the proceedings, or where it is satisfied that justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced. Gallagher and Appleton’s case had reached the stage where there would be detailed discussion with the Judge of their personal finances and issues relating to them. The court had to balance their right to privacy with the right of the press to freely report. In an earlier case the same Judge had said that the presence of the press was to ensure that the case is conducted fairly and to educate the public in a general way about the processes. It was not intended to breach the privacy of the parties.

In financial cases like this, there would be situations where reporting was appropriate, for example, to correct false impressions put forward by one of the parties, where both parties had played out their relationship breakdown through the press, or where there had already been hearings in open court where financial information had been given. The Judge was satisfied that this was not the case here. He said that ‘neither party had manipulatively invoked the press to fight their causes’ and nor had financial information been aired in previous open court proceedings. Most of it will have been aired at earlier private hearings and will have been ‘compulsorily extracted’ as part of the procedure. The Judge did say that it could be reported that Gallagher had given evidence relating to the clothing company ‘Pretty Green’ in which he had an interest, that he had given evidence about owning a property in North London, and that he had been asked questions relating to Oasis.

Interestingly, Gallagher is represented by Fiona Shackleton who had previously represented Sir Paul McCartney in his divorce from Heather Mills in which case it was argued on McCartney’s behalf that publicity was appropriate, whereas here it was argued it was not.

The news organisation concerned has been given leave for appeal and we will hear more about the issue of publicity, privacy and anonymity although not necessarily any more about Gallagher and Appleton’s divorce.

Find out more about our Family department
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