Sheikh’s last chance for court secrecy

David Brown
February 29, 2020, The Times

The ruler of Dubai is considering a last-ditch bid to keep secret details of a custody battle with his youngest wife.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 70, lost an appeal yesterday against the decision of a senior judge to make public judgments of his case against Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 45.

The sheikh had applied to the High Court for the summary return to Dubai of their two children after the princess fled to London last year.

Princess Haya, the sheikh’s sixth wife and a half-sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan has applied for the children to be made wards of court, She has also applied for a forced marriage protection order in relation to one of the children and a non-molestation order.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, has issued two secret judgments in the case.

Lord Justice Underhill said it was the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal yesterday to dismiss the sheikh’s appeal against Sir Andrew’s decision that the judgments should be published.

He dismissed an application by Lord Pannick, QC, the sheikh’s barrister, to appeal to the Supreme Court. The judge ordered a delay in publishing the judgments until 4pm on Tuesday to give the sheikh the opportunity to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

At a hearing on Wednesday Lord Justice Underhill said the case “raises questions both about what is in the best interests of the children and about how to balance that, if necessary, against the right of the press to report matters of public interest”.

Princess Haya, the independent guardian appointed by the court to represent the children’s interests” and The Times and other media organisations opposed the secrecy bid.

The family feud could cause diplomatic difficulties for Britain as Dubai is one of its closest allies in the Middle East. It will also cause concern for the Queen, who is close to both Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya.

The Times revealed last year that the princess had fled with her children to her £85 million home in Kensington, west London, amid allegations that the sheikh had become concerned about her close relationship with a British bodyguard.