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PUBLICITY/ANCILLARY RELIEF: Harb v King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz [2005] EWCA Civ 632

Date:26 MAY 2005

(Court of Appeal; Thorpe, Smith and Wall LJJ; 26 May 2005) [2005] 2 FLR 1108

The King of Saudi Arabia claimed immunity from suit in an application for financial relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, s 27 and a preliminary hearing was held in private to determine the issue. The woman appealed the President of the Family Division's decision which gave the King protection from scrutiny in the trial of the preliminary issue. The Court of Appeal, in a public hearing, allowed the woman's appeal regarding the hearing and the reporting of the case. The Family Division has moved towards greater openness in proceedings. Discretion existed to order a private Court of Appeal hearing, but it was very rarely exercised. The President had erred by joining together the claim to immunity and the claim for financial relief, which latter would be activated only if the claim to immunity failed. Whether or not he was able to defeat the financial claim by a plea of State or sovereign immunity was a matter of public interest that demanded open litigation, especially as it related to private rather than governmental acts. There were no legitimate grounds for imposing reporting restrictions in order to disguise the Kings identity. The family justice system should be cautious of adopting fictional identities.