Anonymity in private family matter upheld by Court

For the family courts in England and Wales, the majority of privately funded cases involving the division of financial remedy on divorce are heard behind closed doors. However, when the judgements are passed down and put out into the public domain, most of the time the parties’ names are given within the case and media is fully aware of the details of their marriage and what settlement has been decided for each case.

This has been a key feature of the family courts and one which a number of judges wish to uphold, on the basis that it is important to be transparent with the public wherever possible. However, a recent case has seen a high profile divorcee ordered not to disclose the contents of a financial offer she has made to her husband outside of the court process. Princess Tessy, the Princess of Luxembourg, married Prince Louis in 2006 and the couple lived briefly in the US before moving to London. They have two children. The marriage broke down in 2016 and Princess Tessy applied for permission to divorce (known as Decree Nisi) in January 2017. This was granted to her on 17 February 2017.

Financial remedy proceedings were begun in the High Court around the same time and the Princess suffered personal attacks in the UK and European media. These – which even her ex-husband has accepted are unjust – have included a description of her in the Luxembourg magazine Letzebuerg Privat as a ‘gold-digger’, who married for title and money. This, and other unpleasant remarks, were then taken up by the British press.

Princess Tessy in September 2017 made an offer of settlement to her husband outside of any court hearing and applied to the English courts for permission to disclose her offer to the press. This disclosure, she said, would demonstrate that she is ‘the antithesis of the gold digger she has been portrayed to be’, and also rebut the assertion that she has everything provided to her by her husband’s family and ‘lives in the lap of luxury’. However, the ex-husband objected to this idea and asked the court to refuse her request. As well as normal confidentiality, he said an order is required to prevent the wife from providing private information to the media as a means of exerting pressure on the husband within the context of this litigation. Further, he said, it was necessary to protect information provided in these proceedings voluntarily by third parties, i.e. his wider family.

The court has agreed with the husband, stating that the personal nature of the couple’s finances engages their right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as having the publication of open offers giving way to the possibility of damaging the process of negotiation. This case shows that privacy in difficult family circumstances has to be finely balanced against the media’s desire to know all the details of high profile people and their lives.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

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