Mr Justice Mostyn rules in favour of greater transparency in family courts

Children|Divorce|Family Law|News|March 4th 2013

Senior judge Mr Justice Mostyn has lifted a press injunction on the reporting of a family law case according to The Sunday Telegraph.

The judge lifted a ban on The Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker reporting on a case involving the future of children living with their mother. The injunction prevented Mr Booker from commenting on the case, known as MvM and the London Borough of Sutton. However, the High Court heard last week that reports on this case were “clearly in the public interest”.

Sir Nicholas lifted the injunction, saying that “the emphasis should be on transparency” in the courts. He added:

“Mr Booker is perfectly entitled to be as rude as he wants about anyone he wants. That is what freedom of speech is about.”

Gavin Millar QC, who argued for The Sunday Telegraph in the High Court, argued that the injunction breached Mr Booker’s freedom of speech. He also argued that reforms to open up family courts had been ineffective as the press have still been limited in what they could report.

Mr Millar said:

“We could have a discussion about how those reforms have worked and how the press have been helped by them. There’s a general feeling that they haven’t been helped that greatly. Very often they can’t report what they want to report.”

There has also been criticism that in many cases journalists have not been given access to vital court documents. Mr Mostyn agreed that this was problematic:

“They [the journalists] can’t see the documents so it’s complete Chinese to them.”

The injunction was first imposed when Mr Booker wrote a series of articles about the case of MvM.

These proceedings involved the divorce of a couple with young children. The mother was placed under an order which prevented her moving from the home she lived in with her children, near to that of their father. According to the mother these geographical restrictions prevented her from holding down well paid jobs because the commutes were too great.

Before one hearing the barrister representing the mother said she was suffering from a psychological condition and was not “mentally competent” to instruct her. The barrister then refused to put forward the arguments the mother wished to be conveyed in court.

Mr Millar argued that the press should be able to shed light on such practices and reflected on a piece Mr Booker wrote about these events:

“The core of the article was about an episode in the life of a litigant which is certainly an issue of public interest: that the law could operate in that way that the lawyers representing you could bring into question your mental capacity.”

Mr Booker said the injunction was “far too sweeping in its implications” and that lifting it was “a victory for common sense and the rule of law”.

The judgement has since provided fuel for discussion on Twitter and elsewhere with senior family lawyers sceptical as to the extent to which this case may have done anything other than follow the existing law, which we have written about in the past. Publication of the judgement itself will shed more light on the subject and when that happens, we will be posting more.

Photo by G.Davies via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. ian josephs says:

    My comment disappears even quicker than the writing of it !
    I still appeal to your honesty to reveal truthfully that Mr Justice Mostyn far from capaigning for transparency actually imposed the injuction himself and was only forced to partially lift it when faced by the eminent QC employed by the Sunday Telegraph !Booker is now free to report but the mother concerned will still face jail if she talks to Booker or anyone else at all about her ordeal !

  2. Chrissie says:

    I spent 2 years protesting around the country for transparency in the family courts, thank GOD that journalists like Booker and Cavandish were brave enough to start reporting on Family Law cases unlike the rest of the media.

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