Thursday 12 December 2019

Judge blocks media coverage of landmark family law case

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE High Court has ruled that the media is to be excluded from covering a landmark family law action with "serious implications for the public interest".

This morning Mr Justice Henry Abbott ruled that a Senior Counsel who is engaged in a mirror action, is also not entitled - as a right - to be present for the case.

The ruling was handed down following legal submissions by Independent Newspapers and the Sunday Times.

The applicants and the Attorney General as well as the General Register Office opposed the move to have the case heard in public.

The newspapers had stated at the outset that they did not seek in anyway to identify the parties or to report any information that would tend to identify them.

Judge Abbott said that had he agreed to the request to relax the in camera rule, he would have imposed reporting restrictions in line with the newspapers' proposals.

Judge Abbott said he did not want to create a "wild precedent" adding that it would be a "very dramatic and serious departure" for him to agree to the newspapers' request.

Judge Abbott said that courts themselves were the first to realise that the practice of family law is "considerably weakened" by a lack of appreciation of how the family law courts operate.

A lack of information can lead to a "sadly uninformed and uneducated"

public, said Judge Abbott.

The family law judge noted that there is a mechanism under the 2004 Civil Liability and Courts Act for prescribed persons to apply for permission to cover In Camera cases.

But counsel for the Attorney General said that journalists were not prescribed persons under the 2004 law.

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