Millionaires embroiled in big-money fights with estranged partners should be named on lists of cases staged behind closed doors at the highest divorce courts, a campaigner for improvements in the family justice system says.
Former Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming says it is time for journalists to be told who is featuring in private High Court money battles so they can muster arguments for publishing names in reports of cases.
Litigants’ surnames are now published on lists of private hearings at lower level divorce courts such as the Central Family Court in London.
But listings in the Family Division of the High Court, where judges oversee the biggest money fights involving millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires, contain only case numbers.
Mr Hemming says it is wrong that the wealthiest get protection not afforded to others.
He has called for change after raising concerns about a case in which a foreign billionaire was ordered to make a £450 million payout to his estranged wife and at a time when judges are in disagreement over how much the public should be told.
A High Court judge on Thursday concluded that the woman should get a 41.5% share of a fortune totalling just over £1 billion, after analysing the case at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
But Mr Justice Haddon-Cave did not name the people involved in a ruling and barred journalists from publishing names if they worked out the identities.
Mr Hemming said editors would almost certainly be able to mount arguments in favour of publishing names in reports of such cases.
But he said without knowing names it was impossible for them to make public interest submissions to judges overseeing trials.
“Rules about family court reporting have changed. Reporters can attend hearings – although judges still decide what can be reported. There is a drive towards more transparency,” said Mr Hemming.
“And there is a public interest in big-money divorce cases being reported. The taxpayer pays the wages of judges and court staff. People have a human right to free speech and that includes the right to receive and impart information.
“Journalists should at least be able to make arguments in favour of reporting. But realistically how can they do that if they don’t know who’s involved?
“The lists in lower level courts have now started to include names in divorce cases. Why should the High Court lists be different? Why should the richest get a protection not afforded to others. It’s time for names to be included on High Court lists in these kinds of cases.”
:: Most High Court judges analyse big-money fights at private hearings – on the basis that private and confidential affairs are being considered – but one, Mr Justice Holman, sits in open court and allows hearings to be reported and litigants to be named.
Mr Justice Holman outlined his views in a ruling on a case nearly two years ago.
He said the distress publicity might cause could not override the importance of court proceedings being ”so far as possible, open and transparent”.
”There is considerable, legitimate public interest in the way the family courts daily operate and that cannot be shut out simply on an argument that the affairs of the parties are private or personal,” he said.
“Precisely because I am a public court and not a private arbitrator, I must be exposed to public scrutiny and gaze.”
:: Earlier this year appeal judges made a ruling relating to the naming of estranged couples involved in divorce money fights which reach the Court of Appeal – where hearings are almost always held in public and litigants named on lists.
A divorcee whose fight with her ex-husband was being analysed by appeal judges argued that journalists should be barred from identifying anyone involved.
Tina Norman argued that her dispute with ex-husband Robert Norman was ”private business”, and there was no public interest in her identity being disclosed.
But appeal judges ruled against her. They refused to impose an identity ban and said journalists could name Ms Norman and her ex-husband in reports of the case.