Mr Justice Mostyn has ruled on a joint application by former husband and wife pop stars Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton to exclude press from their ongoing ancillary relief proceedings in the High Court after their divorce in 2014.
Mostyn J upheld a revised order restricting reporting of the proceedings. However, he also criticised the law about the ability of the press to report ancillary relief proceedings as "a mess" and "chaotic".
Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton are currently engaged in ancillary relief proceedings following their divorce last year (ancillary relief is an application for financial relief by one party to the divorce proceedings).
Proceedings for ancillary relief were traditionally held 'in chambers', meaning that no-one apart from the parties or their representatives could attend. Therefore, there was an implied undertaking that disallowed the reporting of the proceedings by the press (any reportage would be in contempt of court). The reasoning behind (as per the judgment in Clibbery v Allan (No 2)  EWCA Civ 45) is that ancillary relief involves the compulsive disclosure of all aspects of a couple's economic life and is far wider than disclosure in a civil dispute.
A change to the Family Procedure Rules in 2009 relaxed the position slightly by allowing press to report on the conduct of children proceedings. Whilst the press are entitled to report on the nature of the dispute in the proceedings, and to identify the issues in the case and the identity of the participating witnesses (save those whose published identity would reveal the identity of the child), they are not allowed to set out the content of the evidence or details of the matters investigated by the court. The press' role is that of a 'watchdog' to observe family justice and comment upon its workings. The general public are nevertheless not permitted access to the proceedings.
Mr Gallagher and Ms Appleton applied to exclude the press from the ancillary proceedings. News Group Newspapers ("NGN") appeared at the application hearing as an interested party.
Mostyn J rejected NGN's submissions that the effect of the Family Procedure Rule change disengaged the implied undertaking on reportage. The implied undertaking was the bedrock to the right to privacy and collaterally binds observing journalists.
In the alternative, if the matter was one of an ordinary balancing exercise, Mostyn J stated that ancillary relief proceedings start from the position that the scales balancing freedom of expression and privacy are heavily weighted in favour of the latter. However, two situations may lead to a judgment being fully public.
The first situation is where it is necessary to correct false impressions and misconceived facts which have been speculatively reported. The aim in such a situation will be to better secure privacy and family rights than would be served by the court's silence, which would lead to further adverse comment and speculation.
The second situation is where the parties to the ancillary proceedings had waived their privacy rights. For example, if the parties had player out their matrimonial collapse through the press with each giving interviews or private briefings about the development of the case.
In these circumstances, Mostyn J held it would not make sense to bar the press from reporting the names of the parties (save any children) as well as the fact of the divorce and the ancillary relief proceedings because those things "are to be found all over the internet". If the couple were not well known then an order for anonymisation may have been granted.
However, the right to privacy was undoubtedly in place for all other aspects of the proceedings. Neither party had spoken about the divorce or sought to use the press to fight their cause. Finally, very little information about their financial affairs was public (only Mr Gallagher's ownership of a clothing company was in the public domain). Therefore, an order restraining the press from reporting the details of the proceedings was granted.
Despite his decision, Mostyn J was deeply unhappy about the clarity of the law in this area (noting that it was 'chaotic' and a 'mess') and implied that it was an issue which Parliament or the Court of Appeal needed to resolve.