Dubai ruler trying to keep two judgments secret, UK court hears

Sheikh Mohammed opposes release of family court rulings involving two of his children

Owen Bowcott
February 26, 2020, The Guardian

The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, is attempting to prevent publication of two family court judgments involving his two children with his ex-wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, the court of appeal in London has been told.

At the opening of a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, Lord Justice Underhill read out a public statement explaining that the case “raises matters of public interest beyond the particular issue in the wardship proceedings”.

In the two-page statement read out before the public were excluded from the hearing, Underhill said the case began in the UK courts in May last year. The media were allowed to remain during the private session but cannot immediately report on the rest of the proceedings.

The case has been heard up to now before Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division of the high court. He has already delivered two judgments on questions decided in advance of the welfare hearing but they have not been published.

“The first concerned certain disputed factual issues; the second concerned issues arising out of the special position of the father as the sovereign and head of government of a foreign state,” Underhill explained.

Princess Haya was present at the hearing in the court of appeal, sitting beside her solicitor, Lady Shackleton.

Last month McFarlane decided that the two judgments and reports of the related hearings should be published, Underhill said. “The father [Sheikh Mohammed] contends that that decision was wrong in law and that the judgments should not be published, if at all, in advance of the welfare hearing.

“The appeal is opposed by the mother, the independent guardian appointed by the court to represent the children’s interests and by a number of media organisations [including the Guardian]. It 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.”

The case is being heard in the court of appeal by Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Bean.

The billionaire Sheikh Mohammed, 70, is the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai. He is also the founder of the successful Godolphin horse racing stable and last year received a trophy from the Queen after one of his horses won at Royal Ascot.

Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 45, is the daughter of the former King Hussein of Jordan and half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan. She was Sheikh Mohammed’s sixth wife and reportedly fled Dubai last year.

The princess is close to the British royal family and owns an £85m house near Kensington Palace in central London. She married Sheikh Mohammed in 2004.

Educated at private schools in the UK and the University of Oxford, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics, she has served on the International Olympic Committee and has been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme.