- 17 Dec 2021
- 3 min read
Transparency within family court proceedings – Griffiths v Griffiths
The press have recently been given permission by the Court of Appeal to publish details of the case involving the former MP, Andrew Griffiths who was found to have raped his wife, Kate Griffiths, the current MP for Burton, East Staffordshire.
The case in the Court of Appeal concerned an application made by two journalists for permission to publish the judgment which included the names of the parties and details of the findings made against Mr Griffiths. Mrs Griffiths supported the application but Mr Griffiths opposed it, not in order to protect his own anonymity but that of the parties’ young child, arguing that to do so would be detrimental to the child’s welfare.
The parties’ marriage broke down after Mr Griffiths was exposed in the media in 2018 for having sent thousands of sexually explicit text messages to other women. In a public statement to the media, Mr Griffiths claimed that his behaviour was an isolated incident arising from a mental breakdown.
Following the breakdown of the parties’ marriage, Mr Griffiths made an application to Court within Children Act proceedings, seeking to determine arrangements for their young child. Mrs Griffiths alleged domestic abuse, including rape, coercive and controlling behaviour. These allegations were denied by Mr Griffiths and the Court considered it necessary therefore to determine the allegations by way of a fact finding hearing, as if the allegations were found to be true, they could have an impact upon the arrangements for the child.
Within family proceedings, the Court determines allegations on the balance or probabilities – whether it is more likely than not that the allegations are found as fact. This is a much lower standard of proof than that in criminal proceedings where the Court must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the allegations are found as fact.
At the conclusion of the fact finding hearing, the Court made findings against Mr Griffiths as alleged by Mrs Griffiths. Two journalists then sought permission to publish details of the judgment and Mr Griffiths opposed that application. The Court granted the journalists’ permission but Mr Griffiths then appealed to the Court of Appeal. Children Act proceedings are considered in private and orders made include a provision that the names of the parties and the children are not to be publicly disclosed without the Court’s permission. Generally, the reason for this is to protect the children’s welfare. It was at this point that Mr Griffiths was arguing in the Court of Appeal.
Mrs Griffiths however supported publication of the judgment and argued that were it not for the family proceedings, she would have been able to publicly talk about her own experience of domestic abuse. As an MP, she could use parliamentary privilege in any event and she wished to use her experiences to support those who have suffered domestic abuse and protect the children involved. Mrs Griffiths argued that Mr Griffiths’ objections to publication were a further attempt to use controlling behaviour to silence her.
Within the Children Act proceedings, the child had been made a party and a Children’s Guardian was appointed to represent the child within the proceedings. The Children’s Guardian also supported publication of the judgment. It was argued that the child would need to know the truth about what had happened between the parents at some point in the future, particularly as Mr Griffiths’ behaviour had a material impact upon his relationship with the child. The Children’s Guardian was also of the view that publication would demonstrate how the Family Courts deal with cases involving domestic abuse allegations.
The Court of Appeal noted that only those cases where something had gone wrong were usually published and this case therefore offered an opportunity to redress that issue. The Court also considered that the statements made by Mr Griffiths to the media when he had been exposed by the press were incorrect and that it was in the public interest for those statements to be corrected.
The Court of Appeal therefore gave permission to the two journalists for details of the case to be published and that the names of the parents could be revealed.
The decision represents a victory for those seeking transparency within family court proceedings. This does not mean however, that every case will be reported in the media. It still remains an offence to publicly disclose the parties’ names and the children’s names without the Court’s prior permission and any application for permission will be considered on its own merits having been subjected to careful scrutiny by the Court.
If you would like to get in touch with Trethowans’ Family team call today on 0800 2800 421 or contact us here.