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  1. Media Law
October 15, 2015

Judge allows for reporting of ‘poisonous’ Sherlock Holmes Museum feud after Telegraph and Mail submissions

By William Turvill and Press Association

A judge has ruled that the pensioner at the centre of a Court of Protection dispute can be identified following submissions by The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that trying to anonymise the woman, involved in a "poisonous feud", would be "futile".

He also said it was not in the public interest to "suppress" information surrounding the case.

Jackson said the case involving Grace Aidiniantz,88, who is in poor health, was the latest stage in a feud with her children. They "dispute where their mother should live, who should care for her, who should see her, and whether her finances should be investigated".

Family members have been involved in a long-running series of legal battles over the Sherlock Holmes Museum (pictured, Shutterstock) they ran in Baker Street, central London, as well as share and property dealings.

The judge identified everyone involved in the feud in a judgment handed down on Tuesday and allowed the media to report the contents of his judgment.

But the judge refused to allow the media to report what actually happened at the hearings in the case, which were held in private, or to report extracts from the evidence.

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He said: "Once a hearing has taken place in private, even in the presence of the press, an application of the present type seeks to convert it into a public hearing retrospectively. This is in my view problematic.

"Parties and witnesses should normally know where they stand at the time that they are participating in a hearing."

Jackson's decision to allow identification came after Daily Telegraph home affairs correspondent David Barrett made oral submissions to the court. These were supported further by written representations prepared with Daily Mail reporter Mario Ledwith.

The two journalists went to the court after having been alerted to the hearing by a press statement in "highly partisan terms" which was issued on the instructions of an associate of one faction within the family, the judge said.

It is relatively rare for the Court of Protection to identify the individuals at the centre of the cases it hears.

But Mr Justice Peter Jackson said the Court of Protection battle was "the latest in a long line of public disagreements" between family members, who had also been involved in litigation in the Chancery Division of the High Court and in the Family Court.

Will Tyler QC, for the woman's son, John, argued in favour of anonymisation and privacy, claiming real weight should be given to the general rule that the hearing should be in private, and that there was little genuine public interest in publicising the current proceedings because the press was interested in the family dispute rather than issues about Aidiniantz's care.

Aidiniantz's privacy and dignity should be protected, even though she was incapacitated, he argued, adding that his client had brought the proceedings in good faith, and should not thereby be exposed to vilification by the respondents.

Tyler also told the judge that litigants generally should not be deterred from approaching the Court of Protection by the fear of consequent publicity, and that public identification of the parties to a "private family dispute" was likely to fuel conflict rather than bring reconciliation closer.

The journalists argued that the case was the latest in a long line of public disagreements between the parties which had been extensively reported in the press. While the disagreement about Aidiniantz's health was not in itself of public interest, it was the current forum for the ongoing family dispute, which was of public interest, particularly given the family's business interests.

The journalists also argued that anonymising the judgment would make it impossible for the press to report the latest chapter in the very public disagreements between the parties, and that blanket reporting restrictions are not required to protect Aidiniantz's privacy and dignity because there was no intention to report details of her care arrangements or medical condition, beyond saying that she is aged and infirm.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said there was "good reason" to publish the judgment and name the individuals involved.

He said: "Happily, very few families descend to the level of mutual acrimony that exists in this family. It is in the public interest for the public, if it is interested, to see the consequences.

"It is in the public interest to know how the court process operates in a recognisable case.

"It is in the public interest to know what it all costs: in the past year this family has spent £270,000 on this branch of its litigation alone.

"It is not in the public interest to suppress all that information: on the contrary, knowledge of how one family has behaved may deter another family from behaving likewise."

Anonymising a judgment in this case would be "futile", he said, adding: "So much information is already in the public domain that any anonymised judgment would inevitably be linked to the family. The press would be placed in an impossible situation in knowing what it could and could not report."

It was also undesirable that there should be any greater difference of approach than was necessary between two courts dealing with different but related aspects of the same dispute, the judge went on, pointing out that as recently as 4 June this year a Chancery Division judge had given an extensive public judgment in relation to financial issues.

The judge went on: "This is not just 'a private family dispute'. These parties have repeatedly chosen to air their differences in the courts. There is little likelihood of reconciliation.

"A public judgment will not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already are. The parties might even reflect on their future conduct if they know that it may come to public attention."

Finally, Aidiniantz's right to privacy and dignity was undoubtedly an important consideration – even though she herself would not be aware of publicity, her reputation was affected by it being known that she is at the heart of the family discord, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said.

He added: "However, in the overall circumstances, I do not consider that the publication of this judgment amounts to a significant further intrusion into her privacy.

"It contains little personal information and makes no criticism of Mrs Aidiniantz: on the contrary, any fair-minded reader would be bound to feel sympathy for an elderly parent in her situation."

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