Our blogger Lewis Sweeney looks at the privacy laws surrounding divorce and gives his views:
There has been growing concern amongst the legal community as to the changing relationship between the legal world and the media. Many believe the media can help the system achieve what is known as ‘open justice’ – the idea that in order for justice to be done, it must be seen to be done. Family law has a complicated history where publicity is concerned. The ‘bad old days’ of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras are long gone. In this period if a man or woman were to sue their spouse for divorce it was a very public affair leading to scandal, lost careers, penury and social isolation. Revisions to the law and changing social attitudes in the modern era mean that divorce has been a private affair of late, with only the parties involved being able to attend court and see documents involved in the case. Witness the rise of the ‘super injunction’ – a type of legal order designed to stop the national press reporting or even speculating on private, usually family law, matters.
In almost all human rights legislation the right to privacy is recognised; the Human Rights Act 1998, European Convention on Human Rights, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all around the world we see privacy (particularly when it comes to family) as one of the most basic liberties a human being should be afforded. Divorce is one of the hardest things a family can go through and this can only be made worse by having it scrutinised by strangers, of course in a sense this cannot be avoided with the involvement of legal professionals. However it is a commonly accepted view that family matters should always be kept from the view of the wider world unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. With that said do we have the right to a private divorce in practice?
Unfortunately for the world’s rich and famous, the right to privacy in family proceedings is not always respected with the nitty-gritty details of their relationship breakdown scrawled across the pages of the tabloid press. Many would say they are fair game given their position in society and wealth, every other aspect of their life is up-for-grabs (in fact sometimes publicity is fundamental to their career) so why shouldn’t their divorce be too? There is a paradox between the standard we hold those in the public eye to and the way in which we relate to people who are not. We look in shock and awe when a celebrity decides to divorce, questioning the basis, strengths and flaws of their relationship and making a judgement on what the outcome of the proceedings should be. When someone we know goes through a divorce we sympathise for them, understanding it is a huge change in their life, we take a back-step, understanding it’s not our place to judge. Why do we do this? A divorce is no easier for a celebrity, no different in emotional impact.
It was announced a couple of weeks ago that filming will now be allowed in Crown Courts. The pilot scheme will allow for the recording of crown court sentencing however the recordings will not be broadcast. Since 2012 filming has been allowed in the Court of Appeal, however few applications have been received or granted. Of course there are no current plans for cameras to be allowed into family courts however this certainly signals a closer relationship with the media. Jump across the Atlantic and you will find ‘celebrity lawyers’ made famous by high profile televised trials.
It is important we uphold that fundamental and sacred right to a private family life in divorce, away from the scrutiny of the public so that the healing can properly begin. The most important thing to remember when reporting on any case is whether it is in the public interest, which is a difficult standard to reaching family matters, particularly divorce.