Judges disagree about whether divorcing couples are entitled to privacy


Couples involved in multi-million pound divorce settlements who have seen details of their private lives and wealth widely publicised might have grounds for a legal challenge, a senior judge has suggested.

Mr Justice Moor outlined his thoughts while analysing a money fight at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London on Friday – and he gave a journalist at the hearing permission to report his comments.

“Presumably, sooner or later, somebody is going to appeal,” Mr Justice Moor told lawyers at the hearing. “It is overdue.”

The comments follow a disagreement last year by two judges who sit in the Family Division of the High Court. They each had a case where rich couples were caught in a dispute over cash when separating.

Mr Justice Holman, who analyses settlements at public hearings, said there was a “pressing need” for more openness.

Last year he turned down a request for a hearing to divide the assets of Richard Fields, an American businessman, and his wife Ekaterina Parfenova, a Russian actress and former beauty queen, to be held in private.

“Barristers have got to understand that so far as this judge is concerned and this court is concerned there is a very, very high public interest … in openness,” he insisted.

But Mr Justice Mostyn, who analyses cases in private, said such disputes were “quintessentially private business”.

Family court hearings are usually staged in private, with members of the public barred.

Although journalists can attend, there are restrictions on what details can be reported, which remains a matter for the judge.

Now Mr Justice Moor has added his thoughts, saying other judges in the Family Division of the High Court deal with cases behind closed doors – agreeing with Mr Justice Mostyn.

In remarks which he agreed could be published, he added: “It just seems to me that this difference of opinion between the other judges and Mr Justice Holman needs to be dealt with.”

However, Sir James Munby – President of the Family Division of the High Court, and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales – has called for “much more” transparency in the family justice system.

He says the public has a right to know “what is being done in their name”.

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