Media told divorce fight outcome cannot be reported despite earlier coverage naming those involved

The public cannot be told the result of a divorce money fight between a wealthy businessman and his wife although media organisations have already reported that a hearing named those involved, a judge has decided.

Mr Justice Bodey oversaw the dispute at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court last year, when he was asked to decide what share of a fortune the woman should receive.

Reports of the couple’s separation had appeared before the litigation began, and lawyers representing the man and woman agreed that journalists could report the fact that the dispute was taking place, and name the pair.

But Mr Justice Bodey has now thrown a blanket of secrecy over the case after the businessman said he was strongly opposed to the outcome being reported.

The judge has outlined his thinking behind the decision in a ruling after analysing arguments about further reporting at a separate hearing.

Barrister David Sherborne, who represented the businessman, said neither the man nor woman were celebrities.

The man said he had not courted public interest or acclaim.

He described himself as “just a hard-working and successful businessman”.

Sherborne said the pair had children and emphasised their human rights to respect for private and family life.

He said there was evidence that the children had been embarrassed and upset by earlier media coverage.

Journalists argued that allowing media organisations to tell the public that a hearing had taken place but then barring them from revealing the outcome made no sense.

They said members of the public should not be left to think that a case a “fallen into a black hole” – arguing that such an outcome would be a poor reflection on the family justice system.

The woman had said she was neutral on whether the outcome was reported.

Mr Justice Bodey concluded that the balance came down firmly in favour of anonymisation.

“It may well seem ‘strange’ that a case is reported as starting … but that no … report ever appears of the outcome,” said the judge.

“I have to weigh against the media’s case all the equally forceful points set out above in respect of the privacy of much of the information remaining in the judgment … and the risk, as I find exists, of further intrusive and distressing media interest.”

He was well aware that the pair’s children had been through an “exceptionally difficult and upsetting time”.

Two other judges based in the Family Division of the High Court have publicly aired differing views over how much the public should be told about people involved in big-money divorce battles.

Mr Justice Holman analyses cash fights between separated couples at public hearings, and has said there is a “pressing need” for more openness.

But Mr Justice Mostyn says such disputes are “quintessentially private” and oversees hearings behind closed doors.

Both have outlined their views in rulings on cases.

Other judges based in the Family Division of the High Court have not publicly outlined their views, but most normally hold hearings in private and appear to agree with Mr Justice Mostyn.

Mr Justice Bodey added, in his ruling on the businessman’s case: “Unless and until a higher court says that more transparency should be afforded in the first instance in financial remedy proceedings, this outcome seems to me to strike the appropriate balance, even though I accept it is not perfect.”

Earlier this month, a divorcee who had taken a fight over money with her ex-husband to the Court of Appeal failed to persuade appeal judges to bar journalists from revealing her identity.

Court of Appeal hearings are almost always staged in public but Tina Norman said her financial affairs were private business and argued that there was no public interest in her identity being revealed.

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