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Judge bans reporting of divorce finances to save “embarrassment”

A judge has banned publication of the details of a divorce case on human rights grounds after the father of the husband claimed it risked causing him embarrassment and ruining his career.

5 July 2012

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According to a report in the Telegraph, lawyers had argued that although a separating couple’s wealth is usually kept secret, the “cosy financial arrangements” disclosed in High Court papers should be printed as there was a “serious public interest”.

But District Judge Hilary Bradley ruled that the details had only been given “under compulsion” and the family was “clearly anxious” about divulging them.

She said that in the “direct conflict” between the right to press freedom and the right to a private life of those involved in the divorce case, she believed that confidentiality should be maintained, the Telegraphreported.

In a redacted judgment published yesterday (4 July 2012), Judge Bradley wrote: “It is entirely understandable that the media are interested in this case and having heard the evidence are very keen to be able to report what they have learned.

“However, the matters in which the media appear to be particularly interested relate mainly to individuals who are not in any way involved in these proceedings except to the extent that husband has been compelled to provide confidential information about them to the court in order to satisfy the requirement for full and frank disclosure.”

In divorce cases where the couple’s wealth is to be divided, known as ancillary relief proceedings, details of their assets, as set out in witness statements, are usually kept confidential to enable them to make “full and frank” disclosure.

But newspaper lawyers said there was “serious public interest in the issues raised” and that to ban publication would be an “unjustifiable derogation from the open justice principle”.

The judge observed: “There is in this case a direct conflict between the right of the media to freedom of expression and the right of those involved in the matrimonial proceedings to respect for their private lives.

“Husband’s father was particularly concerned about the embarrassment that disclosure of details about him and his financial affairs and those of his son would cause to him and to others and the likely impact on his own career and possible risk to life.”

She concluded: ““I find in considering this aspect that the balance between the right of the media to freedom of expression and the right of the husband (and others) to respect for private and family life... falls firmly in favour of privacy being maintained.”

The couple, who cannot be identified under the anonymity order issued by the judge, were due to thrash out details of their divorce in a five-day hearing in January, but settled out of court, said the Telegraph.

The husband’s lawyers tried to have reporters banned from the courtroom but the judge rejected that application.

At a hearing in April to determine whether or not the couple’s financial status could be published, the husband’s parents also “opposed any reporting of their evidence”.

For the Telegraph’s full report see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/relationships/divorce/9376942/Judge-bans-repo...

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