Hot on the heels of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard airing their dirty laundry in the English High Court, Sir Elton John is the subject of a claim brought by his ex-wife, Renate Blauel, who took exception to comments Sir Elton made about their marriage in his recent autobiography.  Ms Blauel claims that he is in breach of an agreement not to discuss their marriage in public.

Many people going through the difficult process of separation, or in dispute about their children, are understandably concerned about confidentiality.  There are many reasons for these concerns, all equally valid.  Considering and advising clients about potential publicity and protection of their privacy is an important feature of a solicitor’s role.

During the course of family court proceedings, the general rule is that most hearings will be held in private.  The media can attend some hearings (and different judges have different views about whether hearings should be in open court) but there are restrictions on what the media can report, especially in cases involving children.  My colleague, Joshua Green, recently wrote about arbitration as an alternative to the court process (click here).  One of the benefits of arbitration is that it is entirely confidential – the media cannot attend and arbitration can take place at a venue agreed by the parties, so there is no risk of being ‘papped’ on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice.

Within financial disputes following a separation, the parties have a duty to make full and frank disclosure.  Confidentiality clauses in contracts, for example, often include an exception to provide for necessary disclosure within court proceedings.  However, parties can be assured that the information disclosed pursuant to this obligation is confidential, and may not be used for any purpose other than within the proceedings in which the information has been disclosed.

After the proceedings are over, the parties (and their children) cease to enjoy some of the statutory protections protecting their privacy, but it is open for the court to make orders, or for the parties to enter into agreements (like Sir Elton John and Renate Blauel), which include confidentiality provisions.