High Court judge makes gagging order to stop press publishing details of Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton’s divorce proceedings

A High Court judge has made a “gagging order” prohibiting the media from publishing details of the divorce proceedings between Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton.

Mr Justice Mostyn continued a previously imposed reporting restriction order to prevent the press from reporting witness statements or evidence given in court in the ancillary relief hearing between the former Oasis frontman and the ex All Saints singer.

The order means that journalists could report the topics that had come up during Mr Gallagher’s legal battle with his ex-wife in the Central Family Court in London, but that they could not publish details of the parties’ financial information.

News Group Newspapers and the Press Association had asked for a previously imposed injunction to be lifted.

They wanted the court to depart from a 2002 judgment, which prohibited publication of private ancillary relief proceedings held in chambers to ensure full, frank and clear disclosure by the parties.

In the 2002 case of Clibbery v Allen, the Court of Appeal observed that parties in such proceedings were subject to an “implied undertaking” that the information disclosed would not be published.

But a rule change in April 2009 gave the media the right to access to court hearings in family proceedings and it was argued by lawyers for The Sun and the PA that they should be able to report on the case.

However, the judge disagreed. In a written judgment, Mr Justice Mostyn said: “It is quite clear to me that the rule change which came into effect on 27 April 2009 was not intended to abrogate this core privacy provided by the implied undertaking and the hearing of the proceedings in chambers.

“It would be the most startling example of the law of unintended consequences if the result of the rule change was that the press could report everything they heard in an ancillary relief hearing they were allowed to attend.

“It is not a dilution of the principle of open, public and fully reportable justice, the importance of which I naturally recognise, for me to explain that the rule change only granted the press the right, as watchdogs, to observe private business being dealt with by the court, but not to report specific details of the case.

“It is trite law that in proceedings held in open court the starting point is that the proceedings will be fully public and that any derogation therefrom must be justified. In other words the freedom of expression side of the scales starts with some heavy weights on it.

“In ancillary relief proceedings it seems to me that the situation is the other way round. The press have to justify why the core privacy maintained and endorsed by Parliament should be breached. Here the privacy side of the scales starts with heavy weights on it.”

The judge replaced a previously imposed order to the effect the media was prohibited from publishing any report of the case that identified by name or location any person other than the advocates or the solicitors instructing them, with an order preventing the naming the parties’ children.

But he continued the terms of the order prohibiting details of the parties’ financial information, as their right to privacy in this case trumped the right to freedom of expression.

Mr Justice Mostyn said: “This is not a case where the parties have manipulatively invoked the press to fight their causes. Nor is it a case where there have been previous proceedings in open court where a lot of financial material has been aired. Most of the financial information will have been compulsorily extracted and is subject to the implied undertaking, which is the bedrock of the right to privacy, and which, as I have explained, collaterally binds the observing journalists, and where I find no good reason to release them from its effect. Therefore in my judgment the order should continue, for the time being.”

The judge explained that under the terms of the injunction the press could report evidence or submissions that did not have a “financial dimension”.

“It is for the press to take advice as to whether or not a report of the proceedings crosses the line marked ‘financial information’. It is not my role to give advice as to whether something falls on this or that side of the line,” he said, adding that the injunction also “permits the reporting of information which is already in the public domain”.

Mr Justice Mostyn said: “Liam Gallagher’s 34% interest in the company Pretty Green is available to be seen by the world from the accounts filed at Companies House. Thus the press could certainly have said before the case started that these are ancillary relief proceedings where all aspects of the parties’ finances will be examined and that his interest in that company will likely be discussed. And there is nothing objectionable to the press asking an expert what he thinks that is worth based on those published accounts.

“Given that this information is in the public domain I can see nothing objectionable in the press reporting that testimony was given in court about this company, but it would be quite wrong for it to say what the testimony was. Similarly there is nothing to prevent the press saying that testimony was given about the house in North London owned by Mr Gallagher (where his ownership is recorded at the Land Registry), and seeking and publishing the opinion of an estate agent as to its value. But again, it would be wrong for details of that testimony to be revealed.”

The orders were therefore continued, as modified, until another judge hands down his judgment in the ancilliary proceedings.

“He will then consider whether they should continue in the light of his decision about publication, anonymisation and redaction of the judgment,” Mr Justice Mostyn added.

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