RSS Feed

A heartbreaking case of staggering genius

 

It isn’t really heartbreaking – when you read about how two people are arguing about how to divide a fortune of £144 million it stirs up the expression ‘my heart bleeds’, but it is a case where Holman J tackles the word ‘genius’   – and his approach interested me.

Gray v Work 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/834.html

 

It so happens that I agree with Holman J that the word is massively overused.  Just as a quick random sampling – 458,000 hits for “wayne rooney genius” and 35 million for ‘george north genius’  – both of whom are exceptionally talented and gifted sportsmen, but they aren’t geniuses  (geni-ii?)

  1. Paragraph 80 of Charman, excerpted in paragraph (vi) above, is one of several authorities that employ the word “genius”. It appears also in Lambert, and very recently in Cooper-Hohn, and in other authorities in which the court has debated whether the person claiming a special contribution possesses the quality of “genius.” I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context. To my mind, the word “genius” tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them. It may lead, as it did in this case, to the rather crude question to (in this case) the husband: “You don’t describe yourself as a genius, do you?” Not surprisingly, the husband, like any person with a modicum of modesty, was rather nonplussed by the question. Oscar Wilde is famously said to have declared that he had nothing to declare but his genius. More modest, even if exceptionally talented, people may be slow to make such a claim.
  2. What I understand is meant by the word “genius” in this context, and what is required for a claim to a special contribution to succeed, is some “exceptional and individual quality which deserves special treatment.” See Charman at paragraph 80. But the fact that judges have used the word “genius” in this context does tend to underline how exceptional, individual and special the quality has to be.
  3. It is clear from the above propositions and the outcome in other cases that hard work alone is not enough. Many people work extremely hard at every level of society and employment. Hard work alone lacks the necessary quality of exceptionality. Further, to attach special weight to hard work in employment risks undervaluing in a highly discriminatory way the hard work involved in running a home and rearing children.
  4. It is clear also that a successful claim to a special contribution requires some exceptional and individual quality in the spouse concerned. Being in the right place at the right time, or benefiting from a period of boom is not enough. It may one day fall for consideration whether a very highly paid footballer, who is very good at his job but may be no more skilful that past greats, such as Stanley Matthews or Bobby Charlton, makes a special contribution or is merely the lucky beneficiary of the colossal payments now made possible by the sale of television rights.

 

[I think personally I would go with Da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin and Einstein, and I don’t tend to use genius for anyone else – I know that my definition is narrow. {I wrestled with including Orwell, but had to finally conclude that this would open the door to too many others. If Sherlock Holmes had been a real person, would he have been a genius? Just short, I think.}  It would be a definition which means that the special contribution ancillary relief test would not be met for anyone, were I deciding it, since those four men are long gone. And actually it conflicts with the second definition in the dictionary

an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.  So in the unlikely event that I was sitting on the Court of Appeal, I would overrule my own definition as being wrong…]
The other issue of general application relates to the ever popular (and I use ‘popular’ here to mean ‘hatefully recurring and more difficult to ignore than one would ideally like’ as in “One Direction are a very popular band”) theme of excessively large bundles
  1. The parties have spent approaching £3,000,000 on legal fees and associated expenditure. For that, you get very high quality legal teams, and each of them has been very well represented, but it does not appear to have facilitated a conciliatory outcome to this case.
  2. Further, some of the spending has been, in my view, profligate and unnecessary. Ordinary people litigating in the family courts about very serious issues, such as whether their children should be adopted or returned from care or whether life support of a child should be maintained or ended, do not have the luxury of, nor, frankly, the need for, two shorthand writers in court throughout the hearing, producing overnight transcripts to which negligible reference was later made. It is an extravagance. Whilst it was a privilege to hear from two Texan matrimonial lawyers, I do not think the cost of their travel and attendance was justifiable or necessary.
  3. The bundles were excessive and proved inconvenient for me, for witnesses who struggled with them in the witness box, and at least at one stage for Mr Howard QC. At one point we had the absurdity of going to one bundle for a letter and another bundle for the reply. There was a pre-trial hearing before a circuit judge on 3rd December 2014. He had no other involvement in the case either before or after that day. Amongst many other directions, he did formally give “permission for the trial bundle to be extended to six lever arch files…” I asked Mr Tim Bishop QC, who appeared on behalf of the wife, and who was present on 3rd December 2014, whether the circuit judge had exercised his own independent discretion in agreeing to six bundles, or whether he had been seduced by counsel. Mr Bishop immediately and frankly said that the judge had been seduced by counsel and that it was not an independent assessment by the judge. It was rubber stamped. This is not how the very important Practice Direction 27A is intended to be applied. Further, the cardinal and over arching words of the practice direction are the opening words of paragraph 4.1: “The bundle shall contain copies of only those documents which are relevant to the hearing and which it is necessary for the court to read or which will actually be referred to during the hearing …” However many bundles the court may authorise, there should be no document within them which does not fall within that rubric in paragraph 4.1. I have not kept a tally in the present case, but I am confident that the total number of documents read or referred to is less than half the total of well over two thousand pages assembled in the bundles.
  4. In his judgment in L (a child) [2015] EWFC 15, handed down last week, the President of the Family Division has given due and crystal clear warning that these excesses will no longer be tolerated. What I wish to emphasise is that although that judgment related to care proceedings, every single word of the relevant part of it applies no less, and arguably more, to financial remedy proceedings.

I did rather like the language of whether in agreeing that there should be six bundles in the case, the Judge had been ‘seduced by counsel’.

I’m not sure that seduction efforts that involve allowing a Judge to permit additional lever arch files into evidence is going to be a subject matter that would particularly tempt Hollywood into incorporating it into Rom-coms, and probably it will be a while before my huge rollercoaster of a script “Pride and Pagination” gets picked up by Hugh Grant, but a man can dream.    [My action-ancillary-adventure movie starring Matt Damon  “The Besterman Cushion” is in post-production, so there’s that]

[I would have to say that having a letter in one bundle and the reply to that letter in a different one is fairly illustrative of things having gotten completely out of hand]

It is different counsel who later on posits that in the list of assets that the wife has suggested should be transferred to her contains some ‘duffs’ as well as ‘plums’  – I don’t think I am anywhere near well-bred enough to ever get away with using it; but I still liked it.

  1. The wife and her legal team have attempted to avoid the dispute as to discounts by proposing what they call Wells v Wells sharing. They have identified about 24 assets in the asset schedule which they suggest should be transferred in whole or in part to the wife, inclusive of any inherent discount. Whilst I welcome and appreciate their desire to minimise costs and potential further litigation, I am unable to accept that proposal. The present hearing has been largely occupied with the evidence and argument as to the two issues of the agreement and of special contribution. There simply has not been time, in the time estimated and allotted for this hearing, to hear either evidence or argument as to discounts.
  2. Mr Bishop says that their proposed Wells v Wells sharing list contains “duffs” as well as “plums”. But that is mere assertion. I am simply unable to engage judicially in consideration of discounts, save on an item by item basis, upon which the court would need to hear both evidence and argument.

The case is well worth a read if you do ancillary relief, or enjoy watching very well paid lawyers squabble about millionaire’s money. The husband clearly had cojones that would have been setting off the security metal detector given that they began with an offer that was 2% to the wife, 98% to the husband and over the course of the hearing shifted that.

Very sensible, to shift.

But probably not from 2% to 0%.

The wife ended up with 50%  – which one might have thought was a result that one could have guessed at without spending three million on lawyers, but I suppose if you thought you could get away with 98% of the assets it was worth a punt.

 

Yet another of those big money cases that ate up precious High Court time, for a very small fee. I do wonder if the time has come for the Court to get a percentage of the assets in dispute where one is dealing with sums over twenty five million. The ancillary relief Court fee of £255 is not touching the sides of what these cases are actually costing the taxpayer.

Advertisements

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

5 responses

  1. What a waste of taxpayers as well as own money to subsidise such bickering between feuding exes, as the gap between rich and poor in society widens. Shame the discussion of ‘genius’ omits mention of Nikola Tesla.

    • An incredible talent – but my definition is very narrow – I don’t include Feynmann, for example, who is one of my heroes. Tesla doesn’t make it for the same reason that Newton doesn’t (they both had contemporaries who, if not their equal, were certainly not a quantum leap behind)

  2. Pingback: A heartbreaking case of staggering genius | Dec...

  3. Apply the yardstick of equality to every case, rich and poor, unless there is a pre-nup in which case enforce it; there should be no discretion in the matter.

    Bring back Calderbank to discourage greedy and unrealistic litigants.

    Postpone the effect of equality, pre-nups, or Calderbank for so long as there are minor children who would suffer undue hardship – but not a day longer. In the case of Calderbank apply a penal interest rate and charge the costs on whatever the payer gets.

    That would stop most of these cases getting near the courts and would do justice between adults.

%d bloggers like this: