Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum vs Princess Haya bint al-Hussein

MSB’s John Owens comments on this potentially huge high-profile divorce case

The battle lines have been drawn for what is set to be one of the biggest and most high-profile divorce cases in over a decade.

Having fled Dubai in June, Princess Haya has sought refuge in London, and it has been reported that she is seeking political asylum in the UK on the basis that she is a former Jordanian official and is allegedly seeking diplomatic immunity.

Princess Haya is married to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum. who has a personal wealth estimated in the region of £4.5 billion.

The Princess has issued applications in the High Court in London in respect of her children, specifically protection from forced marriage, and is also seeking the protection of the Court by way of a non-molestation order. The Sheikh is challenging these applications made by his wife.

Both the Princess and the Sheikh have made public statements to advise that the Court applications which have been issued are only in relation to the parties’ children and not related to divorce proceedings or financial matters.

Despite making such public announcements, the parties have instructed two juggernauts of the legal profession who are eminent divorce practitioners. Princess Haya has instructed Baroness Shackleton who has previously represented the Prince of Wales in his divorce from Princess Diana, as well as Sir Paul McCartney. The Sheikh has instructed Lady Ward, whose previous high-profile clients include Guy Ritchie in his divorce against Madonna and Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone.

In a move which has shocked many, leading Judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane has lifted the reporting restrictions on the case, which is a departure form the norm in cases involving such high-profile litigants. This will no doubt lead to increased press coverage.

Many commentators will no doubt state that the Princess has fled Dubai in order to essentially forum shop the most advantageous location to begin divorce proceedings. The London courts are widely known to make more generous awards to the financially disempowered party in cases such as this.

The Princess will have to demonstrate to the Court that she has links to the UK before she would be able to instigate divorce proceedings here. This should be a simple enough task considering that she purchased an £85 million property close to Kensington Palace two years ago, has been a resident here with the children since June and that she was educated in the UK, having studied at Oxford University.

In the event that Sheikh Mohammed decides to instigate divorce proceedings in the UAE against the Princess, she would however – under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 (MFPA 1984) – apply to the UK Courts for the financial aspect of the divorce proceedings to be dealt with in this country.

With Sir Andrew McFarlane lifting the restriction on the reporting of this case, the revelations that may come out of the proceedings are likely to lift the lid on this notoriously private Royal Family and specifically the treatment of their female members.

No doubt Hollywood writers are rubbing their hands together with glee, as the circumstances of this marital breakdown are likely to make for a thrilling court room drama.