Court of Appeal Judges will shortly grapple with the question of whether the identities of a foreign businessman and his wife should be publicised. The husband is reportedly a prominent political figure and Court documents describe his wife as “a socialite”. It is believed that they have a number of properties in the UK, registered to a company based in the British Virgin Islands. The husband’s case is that neither party should be named until 2024 due to safety concerns. Journalists disagree and a lawyer for The Times stated that: “there was no evidence to suggest the couple would in fact be in any danger”. Initially, Mr Justice Moor found in favour of The Times. The couple successfully appealed that decision and the matter will be heard by the Court of Appeal in due course. Until that time, the couple’s identities will be protected.

Although there has been a recent and strong shift towards greater transparency in the family Courts, there remains divided opinion on what journalists who attend hearings can report.

Holman J has clearly nailed his colours to the mast. In Luckwell v. Limata [2014] EWHC 502 (Fam) he held that financial remedy cases appearing before him should be heard in open Court as the default position and reporters should have free rein to report on anything said in the absence of an application to limit that reporting. He further quoted Jeremy Bentham, "publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the Judge himself, while trying, under trial". In Holman J’s view, “mere publication of a judgment does not achieve that”.

Mostyn J sits firmly in the other camp. He considers that these disputes are “quintessentially private business”. In his view, the default position is that the reporter must not identify: ". . . by name or location any person other than the advocates or solicitors instructing them," and cannot refer to any of the parties' financial information, ". . . whether of a personal or business nature, including, but not limited to, that contained in their voluntary disclosure, answers to questionnaire. . . , in their witness statements, in their oral evidenced or referred to in submission made on their behalf. . . save to the extent that any such information is already in the public domain."

Either way, there is undoubtedly a need for clarification of this much disputed issue from the Court of Appeal. Which way will the pendulum swing? We will await the decision with interest.