In a victory for freedom of reporting, London’s Appeal Court has backed a High Court ruling that opened the way for wider reporting of private hearings at family courts across the country.
The court, headed by president of the Family Division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, dismissed an appeal by international racehorse owner and trainer Ivan Allan against a High Court ruling last June that such proceedings do not attract a blanket ban on disclosure of material used during the hearings.
Dame Elizabeth said the case raised "fundamental issues over the procedures for hearing family cases in the High Court and county courts around the country".
She said there were certain types of family proceedings heard in private which were "not automatically covered by secrecy", and said that this was such a case.
In the High Court, Mr Justice Munby held that in Family Division cases not involving children, there is no automatic bar on parties disclosing details of cases or court papers to the media.
He rejected a claim by Allan, whose former lover, actress and casting agent Glory Clibbery, revealed details of an in-chambers family court battle, that there was a total ban on disclosure.
The legal battle erupted after Clibbery lost her fight for possession of a Piccadilly flat, which she claimed she was entitled to after living with Allan for 15 years.
The case was heard in chambers but afterwards Clibbery gave her story to the Daily Mail.
Allan sought an injunction restraining her from repeating the disclosure claiming that when proceedings were conducted in private, the material remained confidential.
Dismissing his appeal, Dame Elizabeth said: "Information about children cases is indisputably covered by privacy and secrecy and no information can be disclosed after the end of the case without the leave of the court
"There are, however, family proceedings, of which the present appeal is an example, which are not, in my judgment automatically covered by secrecy, although they can be heard in private.
"Whether they are so protected will depend upon the type of proceedings and whether the administration of justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced by publication."
By Roger Pearson