Media and the £1billion divorce

Billed as the wealthiest couple to divorce through the English family justice system, what did the court decide to do when the media asked to report the details of the case?

(Cooper-Hohn v Hohn [2104] EWCA Civ 896)

Sir Chris Hohn (H) is one of Britain’s top philanthropists.  He is a highly-successful hedge-fund manager with assets believed to be in the region of £1.2 billion.  His American-born wife, Jaime Cooper-Hohn (W), issued divorce proceedings in England in early 2012, and court proceedings to determine the financial issues have now commenced.

The proceedings have attracted a great deal of media interest because of both parties’ very significant wealth and the legal principles to be debated.  Since April 2009 representatives of the media have been permitted to attend private family hearings.  This was permitted in order to improve public confidence in the operation of the family justice system and provide transparency in the family courts.  There had been a perception that the family courts had become too mysterious and broadly unaccountable. However, despite the new rules, the media are still fairly limited in terms of what they can report.  They are not permitted to publish documents in the proceedings, nor are they entitled to publish details or specific information relating to the proceedings.

In the Cooper-Hohn v Hohn case, the media made an application to the court to seek clarification on what they could report.  In determining the extent of what the media could report, the court considered H and W’s human rights and, specifically, Article 8 (everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence) and also Article 6 (the right to a fair trial).  These individual rights had to be balanced against Article 10 (freedom of expression and information).

The court ruled that Article 10 would be met at the conclusion of the case, as the court would give an open judgement at that stage.  Breaching confidence during the financial disclosure stage would not assist the public nor enhance its understanding of the family justice system.  Therefore, the balance in this case fell firmly in favour of privacy in relation to financial matters.

The media has reported that H has allegedly understated his interest in certain assets and is rejecting W’s claims to 50% of his wealth in favour of a 25% interest.  H states that the extent of the parties’ wealth is as a result of his endeavours and so W should get less.  In response, W is arguing that the concept of ‘stellar contribution’ to justify a departure from an equal sharing is inherently discriminatory.

The outcome of the trial is still awaited…

For Family Law advice, please contact Jolene Hutchison, Head of Family and Divorce at jfh@blasermills.co.uk or call 01494 478 603.