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Celebrity case tests media access to family courts

Date:2 JUL 2009

A high-profile man and his former partner involved in legal proceedings concerning their children has asked the High Court to exempt celebrities from new rules opening the family courts to the media.

Appearing in a private hearing before the president of the family court division, the celebrity's barrister, Richard Spearman QC, argued that as a general rule in cases involving celebrities and their children, the requirement to protect their privacy would require that journalists should be excluded from the hearings.

The case is being strongly contested by a coalition of media organisations, who were granted access to the hearing, represented by Gavin Millar QC.

"The press is acting as a public watchdog," Mr Millar said. "Sitting in court is a classic watchdog function. In a healthy democracy the public are entitled to as much information as possible in order to enable them to discuss that information and those ideas which come back from the watchdog.

"On our analysis, what the Government is saying is it really will be for exceptional cases that the press will be excluded."

The case is the first in which the Family Division has had to consider the new system of media access in the family courts and the rule allowing the exclusion of journalists from all or parts of hearings in certain circumstances.

It is expected that the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, intends to use the case to set out guidance for the courts on the approach to be taken.

The case was adjourned until a later date to be set.