What is a Harman Undertaking?

Harman Undertaking

By Ezra Sarajinsky

· Read time: 6 minutes

A Harman undertaking is a promise that you make to the court to not use any confidential information disclosed in the proceedings for any purposes outside of the case. 

The Harman Undertaking and the Lehrmann trial

In the context of the Lehrmann trial, a Harman Undertaking is a legal principle that deals with how materials obtained through a subpoena in a criminal proceeding can be used.

This legal concept prohibits parties in a court case from using material for any purpose other than the specific legal matter at hand – unless either the court specifically releases them from this obligation, the material is presented in open court, or it is used as evidence (at which stage it enters the public domain).

The aim is to prevent such material being used for ulterior motives or gain.

The principle is generally applied to lawyers and parties directly involved in the case – and generally not journalists.

Or does it extend to journalists? Part of the debate is whether the obligation does indeed apply to journalists or not ….

To put it simply, a Harman undertaking is a way for the court to ensure that sensitive information disclosed during legal proceedings is not used inappropriately.

The obligation applies to both parties and their legal representatives, and can be enforced as if it were an order of the court.

What is the Harman rule in family law proceedings?

In family law proceedings, the Harman rule is an extension of the Harman undertaking that applies specifically to financial proceedings. 

Under the Harman rule, parties are required to provide full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances, and to update this information as necessary throughout the proceedings. 

Failure to comply with the Harman rule can have serious consequences, including the imposition of penalties or costs orders.

How do you get relief from Harman undertaking?

If you have given a Harman undertaking and believe that circumstances have arisen that make it impossible or unfair for you to continue to be bound by it, you can apply to the court for relief from the obligation. This is known as seeking “relief from sanctions”.

To be successful, you will need to show that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the undertaking was given, and that it would be unjust or oppressive for you to continue to be bound by it. 

The court will consider all relevant factors, including the nature of the information in question, the reasons for seeking relief, and the potential harm that may be caused by disclosing the information.

What are the exceptions to the Harman undertaking?

There are certain circumstances in which the Harman undertaking does not apply.

For example, information that is already in the public domain or is widely known is not subject to the obligation. Similarly, information that is disclosed in open court may not be covered by the undertaking.

It’s also worth noting that the obligation only applies to information that is genuinely confidential.

If the information is not of a sensitive nature, or if it has been disclosed to a third party with the knowledge and consent of the other party, then the undertaking may not be enforceable.

What is the Harman undertaking statement of claim?

The Harman undertaking statement of claim is a written document that sets out the terms of the undertaking. It will usually be prepared by the party giving the undertaking and submitted to the court for approval. 

The statement of claim will typically include details of the information that is subject to the obligation, the reasons why the undertaking is necessary, and any exceptions or qualifications that apply.


When does the Harman undertaking apply?

The Harman undertaking applies whenever sensitive or confidential information is disclosed during legal proceedings. It is often used in family law cases, but can apply to any type of legal matter where disclosure of confidential information is a concern.

What are the consequences of breaching the Harman undertaking?

Breaching a Harman undertaking can have serious consequences, including being found in contempt of court. This can result in fines, imprisonment, or other penalties as determined by the court.

When can you be released from the undertaking?

You can apply for relief from a the undertaking if circumstances have arisen that make it impossible or unfair for you to continue to be bound by the obligation.

If the court grants your application, you will be released from It is important to note that the Harman undertaking is a serious obligation, and breaching it can have significant consequences. 

If a party breaches the Harman undertaking, they may face contempt of court proceedings, which can result in a fine or imprisonment. Therefore, it is crucial to take the undertaking seriously and comply with it.

If a party wishes to be released from the Harman undertaking, they must apply to the court for relief. The court may grant relief if it is satisfied that there is a sufficient change of circumstances or that it is just and equitable to do so. 

For example, a party may be released from the Harman undertaking if they can demonstrate that the information they are seeking to disclose is already in the public domain.

Where does the term “herman undertaking” come from?

The term comes from a legal case that was heard in the English Court of Appeal in 1983, called Harman v. Secretary of State for the Home Department.

The case involved a woman named Stephanie Harman, who had been given an undertaking by the Home Office not to deport her husband while his application for leave to remain in the UK was being considered. 

The court ruled that the undertaking was a binding promise, and that the Home Office was obligated to keep its promise not to deport Harman’s husband.

Since then, the term “Harman undertaking” has been used to refer to any situation where one party gives an undertaking to another, usually in a legal context, that creates a binding obligation to act in a certain way.


  • In conclusion, the Harman undertaking is a crucial aspect of family law proceedings that helps protect confidential information. 
  • It is important to understand the obligations that come with the undertaking and comply with them. 
  • If a party wishes to be released from the undertaking, they must apply to the court for relief. 
  • Breaching the Harman undertaking can result in significant consequences, including contempt of court proceedings.

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