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This week, a High Court judge has found that the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, hacked his ex-wife's phone using controversial Pegasus spyware in an unlawful abuse of power and trust. Princess Haya, who has been locked in a contentious divorce battle with her husband, had her personal information stolen within court proceedings.
Sheikh Mohammed also hacked the phones of five associates of Princess Haya, including two of her lawyers, one of whom, Fiona Shackleton, sits in the House of Lords.
The High Court's findings were on the lower civil standard of proof (the "balance of probabilities", as opposed to "beyond reasonable doubt", as in criminal proceedings) however, as a result of the findings, the Met police have said that they may need to review the evidence. Their investigations previously halted after the course of five months, as they found "no further investigative opportunities".
The judgement also revealed that the Sheikh and his associates had attempted to purchase a £30 million estate next door to Princess Haya's Berkshire home. As a result of this, the court created a 100-metre exclusion zone and a 1000ft no-fly zone above the princess' property to protect her from her ex-husband and anyone instructed by him.
In his judgement, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, said the following:
"The findings represent a total abuse of trust and indeed an abuse of power, to a significant extent. I wish to make it plain that I regard the findings that I have now made to be of the utmost seriousness in the context of the children's welfare. They may well have a profound impact upon the ability of the mother and of the court to trust him with any but the most minimal and secure arrangements for contact with his children in the future close".
Sheikh Mohammed is, of course, the father of Princess Latifa and Princess Shamsa and has been accused of arranging the abductions of his daughters. The alleged abduction of Princess Latifa has been well reported in the press. When the orders were granted for the exclusion zones, the alleged abductions were taken into account and demonstrated the Sheikh's "ability to act and do so irrespective of domestic and criminal law", referencing the fact that Princess Shamsa was taken from Cambridge to Dubai by helicopter. As such, Princess Haya was justified in asking for a substantial estate with significant levels of security and surveillance, together with a helicopter transport hub.
After the judgement was released on 7th October, MPs and human rights groups have asked Parliament to look into how Sheikh Mohammed deployed such sophisticated spyware.
More and more, we are receiving complaints from husbands and wives who allege that their spouse has been hacking their phone and computer. We are also instructed on cases where one spouse has used home CCTV or hidden recording devices in the bedroom or car to track and stalk their other half. This behaviour is extremely common, and fortunately, the law recognises that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to their private communications. Accordingly, these actions can be classed as unlawful.
Indeed, given this latest judgment, those who attempt to access their spouse's private information will face the wrath of the court. Indeed, their actions may impact the overall result of their case, whether it be in relation to financial matters or to children. In addition, the accused may well be arrested and charged for their potentially criminal actions.