A former Liberal Democrat MP has claimed that the extension of a family court reporting restrictions to overseas journalists is heavy-handed.
John Hemming represented the constituency of Birmingham Yardley for ten years, from 2005 to 2015. He has since become an outspoken and controversial campaigner on family legal issues.
His comments followed the divorce of Norwegian cruise line magnate Torstein Hagen and his wife Ellen-Karine. Presiding Judge Mrs Justice Roberts imposed reporting restrictions on the case. She ruled that the media could name the couple and outline the basic facts of the case, including their legal bills to date, but said the financial specifics of the couple’s fortune and competing claims were strictly off-limits. Any journalists who breach reporting restrictions face jail for contempt of court.
Two reporters for the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende attended the High Court hearing in London. Lawyers for Mr Hagen warned them that the reporting restriction applied to them as well, the News & Star reports.
The Birmingham-born politician took issue with this, saying:
“There’s something not right about a judge in England telling foreign journalists, who work outside the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales, what they can and cannot say. Consider what’s happening in Turkey at the moment. What would we say if a judge in Turkey threatened British journalists with jail in similar circumstances? I don’t think this shows British justice in a good light.”
It would also be very difficult to impose penalties for any breach of the order once the reporters had returned to Bergen in any case, he continued.
The Editor-in-Chief of Bergens Tidende, Oyulf Hjertenes, said the paper would obey but, he added:
“…it has been a big surprise for us being threatened with jail for doing our job. We are not used to this level of aggression from the judicial system, not in Norway, nor in other Western countries. Transparency and freedom of speech are pivotal parts of the judicial system in a free democracy. Transparency makes sure that the public can hold the courts accountable.”
“The British judicial system should defend these basic democratic principles, not attack them.”
Mr and Mrs Hagen reached agreement and settled more than a week into the divorce hearing.
Hemming’s successor as MP for Birmingham Yardley, Labour MP Jess Jess Phillips, has also developed a reputation for controversy.
Photo of Bergen, Norway, by Svein-Magne Tunli via Wikimedia under a Creative Commons licence