Open Justice Trumps Trustees’ Fears for Children

January 20, 2015

Open Justice Trumps Trustees’ Fears for Children

The public interest in open justice has trumped individual privacy rights in a case in which lawyers sought to protect child beneficiaries of a very substantial family trust from the glare of publicity – which it was feared would undermine their security and expose them to 'false friends' interested only in their money.

The creator of the trust sought variations to its terms but was deeply concerned that this would require a hearing in open court. The mother and father of five beneficiaries, all under ten years of age, were determined that they should not learn of the fortune that lay in store for them until they were old enough to cope with that knowledge.

Despite their underlying wealth, the family led a low-key, unostentatious lifestyle and the parents were anxious that finding out about the trust when too young would instil a sense of entitlement in their children and discourage them from making their own way in life and contributing to society. Public knowledge of the family fortune would also threaten their personal safety and make them 'a magnet for false friends'. Concerns were also raised that a public hearing would expose price sensitive information about the private company from which the family fortune emanated.

The High Court nevertheless refused to hear the case behind closed doors. The general rule is that such matters should be heard in open court and there was no exceptional reason to justify derogating from that position. In the interests of the children and corporate confidentiality, however, the Court issued reporting restrictions which banned identification of any of the parties to the case.