This is an expanded version of my latest post for The Times, which appears on The Experts blog today.
As a family lawyer, I am accustomed to representing men and women whose lives have been turned upside down after relationships have broken down. Some of our clients are famous and most are not so famous. However many of them share common ground. Their relationships have been destroyed by indiscretions. They underestimated the consequences.
In my experience, famous men and women are no less prone to temptation than anyone else. They make mistakes. They let their guard slip. They do things in an instant that later, in the full light of day, they bitterly regret. Are they different from any of us? I don’t think so. We are all human beings, and none of us are perfect.
So should celebrities’ indiscretions ever be splashed across the media, flung into the public domain for the rest of us to salivate over?
I am not so sure, just as I believe that divorce cases, many containing “juicy detail”, should always be heard in private. Our courts are being urged to open their doors as widely as possible, but I would argue that in private law cases, this is wrong. What a client does within his or her marriage should remain private. That includes financial arrangements unless the courts direct otherwise, in cases of extremis when naming is required.
For example, if judgments are to be published because they are part of precedent, then all parties should be anonymised. The private lives of those unfortunate enough to come before the courts should remain private. Is it right that at some point in the future, Beatrice McCartney will be able to read the public judgment of her parents’ financial battle and the comments of the court about her mother? Whose business was it anyway?
Likewise, a footballer is famous for being a footballer. I am not interested if he is happily married or otherwise. What he gets up to in his private life should be a matter for him. The courts understand this and do their best to help.
All would be well except that his fame, whether he sought it or not, makes him a target for all those who, a couple of hundred years ago, would likely have been cheering the arrival of the tumbrils in Paris. Back then, the crowds bayed for aristocratic blood and they got it. Due to their position in society, the aristocrats were seen to deserve such fates. Les Tricoteuses sat close to the guillotine, knitting as thousands of men and women were decapitated. Everybody cheered and the bodies were thrown into lime pits.
In 2011, we think we have changed. But does human nature ever really change? Or is it merely controlled in our more sophisticated times, unleashing itself in a different way?
I am aware that in the face of fierce arguments for the naming and shaming of holders of superinjunctions, not to mention a Twitter storm, my views may place me in the minority. However I was pleased today when Mr Justice Eady rejected an application to discharge a footballer’s privacy injunction. As the judge stated: “The court’s duty remains to try and protect the claimant, and particularly his family, from intrusion and harassment so long as it can.”
As a divorce lawyer, when I read about the actions taken to stop a story coming out in the press, I think of my own clients and their families – and my sympathies are entirely with those who seek the protection of the court.