Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Politician gets to keep details of divorce secret

Wife said to be devastated as political figure wins court bid for suppression

The couple are involved in a protracted legal battle through the Family Court. Photo / File
The couple are involved in a protracted legal battle through the Family Court. Photo / File

A high-profile political figure has won the right to keep details of his divorce secret after a judge ruled he was a "vulnerable person".

His messy divorce case included allegations of espionage, infidelity, dognapping, theft, the involvement of three Queen's Counsel, and a disputed allegation the man grabbed or touched his wife's neck, tried to kick in the door of their home and shouted abuse at her.

The couple were involved in a protracted legal battle through the Family Court. The ex-wife has sought the right to speak publicly and to her friends about the break-up, but the husband has fought to keep the dispute secret.

The Herald on Sunday applied to the court to overturn the suppression, saying it was a matter of legitimate public interest and that the man had supported MPs who campaigned on family values.

At a January hearing at the Auckland District Court, the man's lawyer, Lady Deborah Chambers QC, sought confidentiality orders on the grounds that he and his wife were vulnerable people according to the law.

Anyone who has sought a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act - even if the court refused to make the order - is defined as vulnerable. The man and his wife had each asked for protection orders against the other, at the height of their acrimonious break-up, meaning they cannot now be identified - even though the applications for protection orders were rejected.

Judge David Burns said the man was a "robust public person" and the vulnerable person clause in the Family Courts Act was never designed to cover a person such as him.

But the ex-wife had acted "unwisely" in speaking to the media about the case.

"My finding that the wife is likely to distort the truth and what she says to media outlets is likely to be inaccurate or exaggerated and as a result she is going to be reported even though it has no relationship with the truth.

"There is a serious risk that parts of the judgment could be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Also other innocent third parties referred to in the judgment could be affected."

The judge did not accept the Herald on Sunday's argument that naming the couple was in the public interest.

The husband had "acted appropriately and endeavoured to support his wife, who was clearly unwell for a long period of time before separation", Judge Burns said.

He added: "I do not consider he can be validly criticised, and I am concerned that sensitive material sought by the wife could be misinterpreted without the benefit of it being fully tested.

"Accordingly I am satisfied that there is no public interest to justify publication in this particular case."

The former wife is understood to be devastated at the ruling as she believes her freedom of speech has been curtailed.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 31 Jul 2014 04:05:46 Processing Time: 648ms