Mostyn J’s concern about the balancing exercise of having a public media “watchdog” whilst maintaining the privacy of high profile parties – and the effect on justice – is clearly warranted. Indeed, during my years working for a media law firm, I saw many of our high profile clients choose to settle claims on less favourable terms to avoid the potential press coverage associated with court proceedings.
However, there is an additional reason to be concerned about this issue of press reporting, and it is a concern that affects everyone, not just those in the spotlight.
Unlike court proceedings, Arbitration is entirely private at all stages of the process, even the Arbitrators’ judgements. It is a flexible process, timetabled at the parties’ convenience and can be held at any venue. Since its introduction it has therefore proved to be a particularly popular choice with those who are in the media spotlight.
With the High Court now being reserved to cases of significant complexity (and therefore high profile individuals are more likely to have to ‘slum it’ in the Central Family Court – the media coverage of Noel Gallagher turning up to CFC with Fiona Shackleton last week is a prime example), there is yet further cause for such parties to chose Arbitration over court proceedings.
Therefore how many cases that could be providing helpful jurisprudence in financial remedy cases are now instead being heard by Arbitrators in secret, and will this number grow?
in my opinion the question of whether a party's private affairs should be laid bare in the national press should not depend on whether the report of the case is thereby more newsworthy and therefore likely to gain a higher circulation for the publisher.
15. It is my opinion that the present divergence of approach in the Family Division is very unhelpful and makes the task of advising litigants very difficult. A party may well have a very good case but is simply unprepared to have it litigated in open court. The risk of having it heard in open court may force him or her to settle on unfair terms.