Dubai ruler in court to stop publication of rulings in row with ex-wife

High-profile dispute between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya focuses on children’s welfare

Jane Croft
February 26, 2020, Financial Times

The billionaire ruler of Dubai has launched a legal appeal to prevent the publication of two rulings connected to a dispute with his former wife Princess Haya over the welfare of their two children.

The Court of Appeal is hearing the case brought by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and deputy president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, who has extensive British interests mainly through his Godolphin horseracing base in Newmarket. The appeal arises from ongoing wardship proceedings over the couple’s two children.

The former couple have been embroiled in the proceedings since May 2019 but hearings have been in private at London’s High Court.

Lord Justice Underhill, vice-president of the Court of Appeal, made a public statement on Wednesday at the start of Sheikh Mohammed’s appeal, saying that wardship proceedings are ongoing and a hearing will take place in the High Court next month where a judge will make a decision about the arrangements for the children’s future care and welfare.

He told the court that the appeal centres on the possible publication of two court judgments in the case, which were delivered in private by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division. They concern disputed factual issues in the case as well as issues about the special position of Sheikh Mohammed as sovereign and head of government of a foreign state, the judge said.

Lord Justice Underhill said that both rulings “raise matters of public interest beyond the particular issue in the wardship proceedings”. He noted that the rulings had been handed down in private but Sir Andrew McFarlane had ruled separately last month that the two rulings could now be published.

The court heard that Sheikh Mohammed is asking the Court of Appeal to prevent their publication. He contends the earlier decision is wrong in law and says the rulings should not be published, if at all, in advance of the welfare hearing.

However, Princess Haya, the independent guardian who has been appointed to represent the interests of the two children and several media organisations — including the Financial Times — are all opposing Sheikh Mohammed’s appeal. They all argue that the rulings should be made public now.

Lord Justice Underhill said the appeal “raises questions both about what is in the best interests of the children and about how to balance that, if necessary, against the rights of the press to report matters of public interest and the decisions of the courts”. He said the appeal would be heard in private.

Last July Princess Haya applied to the High Court for a forced marriage protection order for one of her children as part of the dispute. She also applied for wardship for their children — which means the court has to approve any decisions relating to them. The princess has been pictured attending the High Court on a number of occasions since she moved to the UK with the children a year ago.

Educated at Oxford university, Princess Haya, who is sister to Jordan’s King Abdullah, was the first Arab woman equestrian to compete in the Olympics, when she represented Jordan in show jumping in the 2000 Sydney games. She is being represented by a top legal team that includes Fiona Shackleton, who is renowned for her expertise in high-profile family cases, including representing Prince Charles in his 1996 divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales.

Sheikh Mohammed is also represented by a number of top lawyers including Lord David Pannick, the barrister who acted for businesswoman Gina Miller in her successful Supreme Court challenge last year about the legality of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prolonged prorogation of parliament.

Since Princess Haya moved to Britain, the Sheikh’s private life has come under the spotlight, including allegations of the mistreatment of the Dubai ruler’s daughters from other wives, including Sheikha Latifa, 33, and Princess Shamsa who allegedly disappeared from the streets of Cambridge in 2000 and has not been seen in public since.

Princess Latifa allegedly tried to flee Dubai last year but was abducted from a yacht by Emirati forces and returned to the UAE. She was photographed in Dubai with Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, at a meeting in December.

Ms Robinson, a former UN human rights chief and a friend of Princess Haya, later described Sheikha Latifa as “troubled” and “in the loving care of her family”. The UAE authorities used her comments to respond to the allegations about Sheikha Latifa’s treatment.