Tuesday 24 January 2012

Discretion is the better part of family litigation

There's nothing new about the concept of privacy in family proceedings.  It crops up with some regularity both in relation to family finances and children proceedings.  My attention was drawn to this article in the Northampton Chronicle:

Northampton Chronicle

As far as I'm concerned, privacy is just common sense in family matters.  Few cases are of genuine broader interest to the public or to lawyers.  Any number of people think that their family dispute is out of the ordinary because of their opponent's behaviour, but sad to say, after years in family litigation, very little I encounter has the capacity to surprise me.  Yes, I can be disappointed by how clients and their former spouses treat each other but it very rarely comes as any sort of shock.

There's that old saying, don't wash your dirty linen in public.  In the family law arena, it has legal force, and with good reason.  People say and write things in family cases which years later they are almost certain to regret bitterly.  Worse, they can say things which cause the deepest imaginable embarrassment and hurt to their children.

The most notorious case of this type occurred last year and has so far resulted in prison sentences for two people.  Vicky Haigh was publicly "outed" by a High Court judgment last August - you can read about it here, for example:

Daily Mirror Vicky Haigh

Most recently, in December last year, Vicky has been imprisoned for three years for breaching an injunction which prevented her from having any contact with her daughter, presumably because the court decided that the way she behaved with her daughter was likely to cause harm to the child .  One of Vicky's supporters, Elizabeth Watson, was imprisoned at the time of the hearings in August, as reported here:

Elizabeth of the family Watson

So the message here could not be clearer - the Court will do whatever it has to in order to protect the child.  And one of the key interests of the child is not to have his/her privacy violated at the whim of one or other parent. Where there are individuals who refuse to comply with court orders, unfortunately the courts will have to exercise their powers to insist on compliance.  Whereas adults have some sort of control over their own destinies, children are uniquely vulnerable and so it is only right that first of all their interests should be foremost and secondly, that orders to promote their welfare should be enforced.

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