This judgment of Mr Justice Holman was published in June. You can read it in full on BAILII here : Fields v Fields (Rev 1) [2015] EWHC 1670 (Fam) (04 June 2015).

It is a decision made in financial remedy proceedings (sorting out the finances after separation of a married couple). It was a “big money” case i.e. the parties were wealthy.

Holman J said this :


  1. For reasons which I have explained in my judgment in Luckwell v. Limata [2014] EWHC 502 (Fam) at paragraphs 2 to 5, there is, in my view, a pressing need for more openness in divorce financial remedy proceedings. I will not repeat those reasons, but incorporate them into this judgment by reference. The family courts must be more transparent and there is no good basis for making an exception of financial cases. Such cases are heard in public on appeal to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and the law reports and press reporting are riddled with considerable intimate and financial detail of many financial cases on appeal. Accredited journalists are, in any event, entitled to be present even when the court is sitting in private, subject to strict and limited exceptions. To permit the presence of accredited journalists, but then tightly to restrict what they can report, creates a mere illusion of transparency. For these reasons I decided at the outset of the hearing to exercise the discretion under Family Proceedings Rules, rule 27.10, to direct that the bulk of the hearing (including now the delivery of this judgment) should be in public. 

  2. As I said in Luckwell v. Limata at paragraph 5: “Protection of commercially sensitive or other confidential information of third parties may raise special considerations.” This is reflected also in paragraph 5.4 of the Practice Direction 27B on “Attendance of media representatives at hearings in family proceedings” and the reference there to “price sensitive information (such as confidential information which could affect the share price of a publicly quoted company).” A part of the evidence and submissions in this case did involve consideration of information of that kind. At those points of the hearing I did, for reasons which I gave and without any resistance by the journalists who were present at the time, exclude not only any public but also the press. With these exceptions, this has been an entirely open and transparent hearing. Press attended almost all the hearing and a very small number of members of the public attended short parts of it. 

  3. I am aware that as it progressed the case attracted considerable coverage in some newspapers and online, which I was told that the parties found distressing. I regret their distress; but it cannot, in my view, override the importance of court proceedings being, so far as possible, open and transparent. Courts sit with the authority of the Sovereign, but on behalf of the people, and the people must be allowed, so far as possible, to see their courts at work. There is considerable current, legitimate public interest in the way the family courts daily operate, and that cannot be shut out simply on an argument that the affairs of the parties are private or personal. Precisely because I am a public court and not a private arbitrator, I must be exposed to public scrutiny and gaze. But the exposure is very avoidable by the parties themselves. That is one of the many advantages of settling a case. The system already provides judicial assistance with settling at the totally private and totally privileged Financial Dispute Resolution or FDR stage. These parties had two whole days of such a hearing before a very senior High Court Judge in December 2013 and January 2015. That was their opportunity for judicially assisted in-court resolution without any publicity. If a case really cannot be settled, there are now sophisticated and specialist out of court mechanisms for private arbitration, including that provided by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators. The advantages of arbitration include convenience (the parties can choose their own place and date), probably earlier resolution, probably costs savings, and certainly complete privacy.

Mr Justice Holman is well known for being a fan of transparency, and as the quote above identifies, he has set out his views about this in other judgments. If you find your financial remedy case is being dealt with by him you can usually bank on it being heard in public. The interesting aspect of this is that not all judges of the Family Division take quite the same approach, so it introduces something of a lottery element into the equation. Parties whose cases are known to be listed in front of this judge will have a pretty strong incentive to find a private way to resolve their disputes – for example through arbitration or by settling at the Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (although as this and other cases demonstrate sometimes that incentive is still not enough). So here we see transparency being used as a tool to encourage parties to sort things out before trial or without even coming to court at all – transparency as a means to another end rather than an end in its own right.