What does the Sheikh Mohammed ruling mean for transparency in the family courts?

10th March ‘20

The recent ruling to lift reporting restrictions concerning the ruler of Dubai highlights the judiciary, led by Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, are taking note of calls for greater transparency in the family court to provide the general public with a greater understanding of how the family justice system works.

The redacted judgments concerning the wardship of two of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s children were published last week. Sheikh Mohammed was so keen for these judgments not be in the public domain that he went as far as making an application to the Supreme Court on the grounds that publication would be contrary to the interests of the children.  The Supreme Court declined to hear this appeal on the ground that the application did not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance.

Fact finding hearing

One of the judgments arose from a fact-finding hearing. This is a hearing used during family law proceedings to establish the true facts of a case when those facts are in dispute between the parties. In this specific judgment Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, concluded that Sheikh Mohammed “ordered and orchestrated” the unlawful abduction of his two children and subjected his youngest wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein to a campaign of “intimidation”.

The judgment itself was very damning of Sheik Mohammed, who himself chose not to participate in the fact-finding hearing. The seriousness of the findings made can be summarised when Sir Andrew McFarlane’s judgment explained that his ruling “may well involve findings, albeit on the civil standard, of behaviour which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law, and internationally accepted human rights norms”

Reporting in family proceedings

What I found particularly interesting, as a family lawyer practising in London, was the decision to lift reporting restrictions on the judgments in this case. This is particularly important bearing in mind how high profile this case was in the media and the nature of the ruler of Dubai’s close links to the UK both politically and through the royal family.

Transparency in the family court is on the agenda of Sir Andrew McFarlane who is undertaking a review of the current arrangements which regulate access by journalists and the public to, and the reporting of information concerning proceedings in the family court.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of “the Transparency Review” will be where there are the challenges, on the one hand, of the public having confidence in the work undertaken by the family court and, on the other hand, the need to respect the confidentiality of children and the parties involved in proceedings.

If you want a real understanding of the facts of this case and the findings made, which goes beyond this blog, do read all the judgments in full which are available online.

This post is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Please speak to a member of our team.

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