Victory for transparency in Al Maktoum family case

In another step forward in the onward march of transparency and open justice in the family courts the media successfully applied for the judgments in the family proceedings of the Ruler of Dubai and his former wife, HRH Princess Haya, to be made public this week.

The media’s application

In a cross-media application, the media, represented by Sarah Palin, applied for all of the unpublished judgments handed down in private in the Al Maktoum family proceedings to be made public and for permission to report the oral and written arguments.

Among the very strong public interest reasons relied on by the media were that the judgments disclosed judicial findings of fact which establish serial criminal offences of phone hacking committed in this jurisdiction, serious interferences with the administration of justice and abuse of power by the Ruler of Dubai, all of which contribute to a wider debate on human rights violations by the UAE government. If publication of the judgments were to take place, it would be anomalous to refuse the media permission to report the oral and written submissions, and render pointless the practice of allowing journalists to attend the hearings.

HRH Princess Haya, supported by the children’s guardian, argued for publication of the judgments based upon her own Article 8 rights and those of the children.

Shortly before the hearing of the media’s application Sheikh Mohammed conceded that all of the judgments should be published without redaction and that the media should be permitted to report the proceedings generally.

Sarah Palin was instructed by Guardian News & Media Limited, Associated Newspapers Limited, the BBC, The Financial Times Limited, Sky Plc, Reuters News and Media Limited, PA Media, Telegraph Media Group Limited and Times Newspapers Limited.

The Transparency Review

In recent years there has been a progressive move towards open justice and transparency in the family courts. Since the announcement in 2009 that the media could attend hearings in family proceedings there have been further moves towards greater transparency. In 2014, the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby issued Practice Guidance (Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments), which led to a significant increase in the number of judgments publicly available. This was later supplemented in October 2019 by the President’s guidance as to the approach to be taken to applications made by the media who wish to vary reporting restrictions to allow reporting of proceedings at, or following, a hearing.

In May 2019, the President announced that he was conducting a review of the current arrangements for public and media access to, and reporting of, the Family Courts. The publication of the Family Division’s Transparency Review of the current arrangements for media access and reporting in the Family Courts is expected later this month. Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Claire Overman made written submissions on behalf of the Media Lawyers’ Association.  Heather Rogers QC acted for the local authority in the recent leading case on access to court documents in children cases Newman v Southampton City Council & Others [2021] 1 WLR 2900.

The judgments can be found here.

Media coverage: The Guardian, BBC, The Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Financial Times, New York Times.