The general rule in the Family Courts is that cases are dealt with in private. This dates back to the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports Act) 1926. The Act states that it is unlawful to print or publish:
- The names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses;
- A concise statement of the charges, defences and counter charges in support of which evidence has been given;
- Submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings, and the decision of the court thereon;
- The summing-up of the judge and the finding of the jury (if any) and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment.”
The Act was brought in to prevent the reporting of sordid details of divorce cases; it was described as: “An Act to regulate the publication of reports of judicial proceedings in such manner as to prevent injury to public morals”.
In the latter part of the twentieth century there were calls for Family Courts to be more open; it was felt by some that decisions were being made in secret and could not be scrutinised. This had to be balanced against parties in the Family Courts having the right to privacy and confidentiality.
In financial cases there is a duty to provide full and frank disclosure of all documentation including bank statements, properties, business interests etc. It is therefore unsurprising that people, especially those in the public eye, do not want their financial affairs to appear in the press.
The Family Procedure Rules 2010 introduced a slight relaxation to the rules in financial cases. An exception to the general rule now allows that “duly accredited” members of news gathering and reporting organisations may be permitted to attend. There is discretion to exclude the media in certain circumstances, for example if “justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced”.
In the average divorce case the press are unlikely to have much interest. However, for the likes of Ryan Giggs, the story is likely to sell newspapers. The onus is then on the party or parties seeking to bar the press to apply for a Reporting Restriction Order. This is the application Ryan Giggs has made to the court.
When considering whether to grant reporting restrictions the court has to carry out a balancing exercise between two rights conferred under the European Convention on Human Rights which was incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 8 covers the right to respect for private and family which is set against article 10 which deals with freedom of expression. Freedom of expression includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information. We do not yet know what decision the court has made on Ryan Giggs application for a Reporting Restriction Order.
Whilst the language of the 1926 Act may be somewhat outdated, the spirit of that law is as relevant today as it was then and the balance has to be struck between the right to privacy and press freedom.
To find out more, contact a member of our Family Law team on (0114) 218 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.