Anonymisation of parties in matrimonial proceedings
The Court of Appeal has lifted an order by a family court judge which directed that the parties to the proceedings should be anonymised.
In Lykiardopolu v Lykiardopolu  EWCA Civ 1315 Mrs Justice Baron had ordered that the parties’ identities should be protected in order to avoid damage to their commercial interests and to the husband’s health and wellbeing. The judge was also concerned that if publicity arose from family proceedings, parties would in future be deterred from using the courts. The judge made her order despite having made serious findings adverse to the husband and his family, including that they had conspired to manufacture evidence in order to disguise the extent of the husband’s assets.
The parties belonged to a wealthy and well-known Greek family with substantial shipping interests. The judge's direction of anonymisation was unspecific about precisely how their anonymity should be achieved. It was interpreted by Counsel for one of the parties as requiring not just the substitution of initials for the parties' names but the alteration of certain factual details to disguise their identities. These alterations included the relocation of the family seat from Cephalonia to St Petersburg.
The Court of Appeal was not satisfied that any of the judge’s reasons stood up. In any event, in view of the identity of the parties, who were part of a wealthy and well-known Greek shipping family, the court saw the case as presenting a choice between either reporting the judgment (with certain redactions) or not reporting it at all. It did not approve of anonymisation combined with selective fictionalisation of the facts: redaction was one thing, but invention was quite another.
In ordering the judgment to be reported, the Court of Appeal emphasised that parties to a matrimonial dispute who bring their financial affairs before the court will generally be assured of confidentiality and in most cases the parties’ entitlement to privacy will mean that an anonymous judgment is the right way of proceeding. But the court also stressed the importance of open justice and of litigants not misleading the court. In this case, in the absence of other factors justifying anonymity, “the judgment must be redacted to protect the privacy of the husband and the family wherever that protection can be given without reducing or veiling the scale of their litigation misconduct”.
See further section 10.4.2 of the Privacy Law Handbook