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30 September 2015

Gallagher-Appleton divorce triggers dispute over family court reporting

The courtroom divorce battle between Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton has triggered a landmark legal dispute over what can be reported in the public’s interest from the family courts, reports The Guardian.

Both the former Oasis frontman and the All Saints singer, the high court has been told, are opposed to the lifting of reporting restrictions about their matrimonial dispute.

But the proceedings, held in private so far, have highlighted the uncertainty surrounding what precisely can be relayed by the media. Reporters, but not the public, have been allowed into the family court as observers since 2009, the judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, explained on Tuesday. But he admitted: “The press come in half-blindfolded ... The role of the press is more watchdog than as members of the public.”

He said that regulations covering what can or cannot be written were not clear. “If you asked someone to design a more crazy system they couldn’t have done it ... Sometimes the court has to issue an unanonymised judgment to prevent speculation becoming the new truth.” The government, he added, need to address problems because the existing system is “a half-built house”.

His comments came as an application by the media was made for reporting restrictions in the Gallagher/Appleton case to be lifted. Jacob Dean, counsel for News UK, said that no evidence had been presented to suggest that reporting the proceedings would cause damage or distress. Coverage of divorce cases enables the public to learn about how the divorce courts operate and how fair divisions of assets are reached, he said.

 “The way the public is educated is in reading stories about people and what happens to them when they are involved in proceedings,” he added. He went on to say that relying on only anonymised reports would not generate much coverage in the media. Many of the details of the couple’s private life had already been widely reported in previous stories.

Other high profile cases, such as the divorce between the former Beatle Paul McCartney and Heather Mills were covered by the media, the high court was told. But Patrick Chamberlayne QC, who represents Appleton, told the hearing: “Both of those spouses had waged their battle through the press outside [court].

“There had been massive public speculation as to what the award would be. It had reached such a pitch that it would have been impossible to anonymise any judgment or say that it would not be published.”

By contrast, he stressed, there had been no speculation or awareness of the Gallagher/Appleton financial remedy proceedings in the run up to last week’s hearing. “It’s impossible to say that this falls into the McCartney/Mills category,” he said. “There’s no important legal principles. It’s sharing, it’s matrimonial assets.

“Is the simple fact that the couple is famous sufficient to displace the presumption of anonymity and confidentiality? I don’t see that should be so. There’s no simple fame exception to the principle of anonymity and confidentiality. This couple [Gallagher and Appleton] have not spoken about their divorce in a warring way or scoring points through the media.”

The judge reserved his decision on whether media restrictions on the divorce should be lifted but granted permission for legal arguments about the broader issues to be reported.
Gallagher has been represented during the case by the divorce solicitor Fiona Shackleton. His six-year marriage to Appleton broke down after it was revealed that he had fathered a child with Liza Ghorbani, a New York journalist.