This is a case called Re K v D (Parental Conflict) 2015
It involves a separated couple, who were described by the Judge as being “100% British, but with no intention of paying tax here” and who owned a mansion worth about £5.5 million in the name of a company, in the British Virgin Islands. They were involved in acrimonious litigation about their children.
And indeed everything else.
The parents’ legal bills have of course been rocketing. Paid and owed, they already exceed £½ million after only a few months of hostilities. The current figures, which do not include the costs of the other participants in the financial proceedings, are these:
Mother Children Act £147,000
Previous solicitors £47,300
Father Children act £88,400
A particularly unedifying aspect is the argument about maintenance for the children
On 18 February 2015, this court made a financial order at a hearing at which not only the parents but two other entities (including the BVI company) were represented. Having heard from no less than six counsel (three Queen’s Counsel and three junior counsel) the Deputy District Judge accepted undertakings from the father to pay the bills on the family home and the children’s school fees and ordered him to pay the mother monthly maintenance pending suit of £6,500 and a monthly litigation fund of £16,000. The net effect is that for every pound of maintenance for the family a slightly larger sum is due to be paid for the maintenance of just one of the four legal teams. In fact, since the order was so recently made and the undertakings given, the father has ignored it altogether. Apart from a payment of £3,000 in May, he has paid nothing. In four months, arrears of £113,000 have accumulated. The effect on the mother, and consequently on the children, is obvious, and their school places are under threat. Yet this is a man who was as recently as June 2013 given an unsecured loan of $1 million by a billionaire friend.
Yes, you read that right, the Court had ordered the father to pay £6,500 a month in maintenance for his children, but £16,000 a month towards his wife’s legal fees. Something has gone badly wrong here.
The father isn’t so far paying any of this. That’s not attractive. Even less attractive is not paying that maintenance and then doing THIS
(10) Despite his almost total default in meeting his financial obligations in 2015, the father, who has an empty property in Kent, stayed in a five-star hotel on Park Lane for four nights in May with his girlfriend and for six nights in the week of this hearing.
As you can see from the name of the case, there was a sufficient amount of parental conflict for the Judge not only to remark upon it, but name the case after it. Given what sort of stuff Judges see on a daily basis, when one names your case “Parental Conflict” then you may be taking this whole conflict thing too far.
However, not everyone in the case was in conflict.
The Judge had to deal with some allegations as to whether mother’s solicitor had gone the extra mile for his client….
(7) For her part, in September 2014 the mother instructed her current solicitor (no purpose would be served by naming him and the firm’s name is redacted in the title of this published judgment). They began a relationship about six weeks later. At the outset of the retainer the mother sold her car and paid the solicitor the proceeds of £20,000 for his legal services. Since then, she has incurred some £300,000 of legal fees, all unpaid. The couple has travelled abroad, with the solicitor taking the mother for a weekend in Barcelona in December and going with the mother and children to Paris during the February half term. The solicitor spent Christmas in the family home with the mother and children and is a regular overnight visitor to the home. As the father is in flagrant default in paying maintenance, the solicitor has been offering necessary financial support to the mother to cover some bills and expenses: instead of the client paying the solicitor, in this case it is the other way round. The propriety of the mother’s solicitor acting for her in the circumstances has been referred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority by the solicitor himself and by the father’s solicitors, and I return to this below.
If you are thinking that it is a bad, bad feeling to have a Judge question your propriety as a solicitor during a hearing, add into the mix that he is admonishing you about your love life, that he is doing this IN FRONT of your current lover’s ex-boyfriend, in the middle of a Court case about their children at which you are representing her. That’s almost as though someone has gone into the head of a lawyer and used what they have learned to craft them the ultimate nightmare scenario. The only thing lacking is that bit where you have to stand up and address the Judge and realise that you have no trousers on. (I have that particular nightmare at least once a month. Just me? Oh, well then I was just kidding)
It gets a bit worse for the solicitor later on. If you don’t like lawyers, or you are a fan of schadenfreude, keep reading.
The fact that THIS next paragraph barely rates a mention is illustrative of just how bad things were getting for this solicitor.
(9) Although she initially denied it, the mother was compelled to accept that at various times since October, her solicitor has been employing a private detective who has, I find, been following the father and no doubt making other investigations on the mother’s behalf. The mother, her solicitor and the detective dined together on the night before the mother gave evidence. The detective’s fees amount to £4,200, unpaid
No, I can’t see much wrong with taking your client / lover out for dinner the night before she is due to give her critical evidence. And inviting your secret private detective along too.
What could be worse than the Court dissecting the fact that you are in a relationship with your own client, are paying her legal expenses yourself (?), spent Christmas with her, put yourself in a position where an allegation of coaching your client the night before her evidence could be made against you and getting yourself reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority?
Well, what could be worse is putting yourself in a position where you might be called as a witness to give evidence in said case..
And then trying to claim that any and all conversations with the mother were covered by legal professional privilege, and so you wouldn’t reveal the contents.
Now, I’ve had clients in my time that needed a LOT of legal advice. I mean a LOT. But I’ve never had any that needed that advice to be dispensed over Christmas dinner, or in overnight staying visits at the house. I am pretty sure (unless the relationship was the dullest in recorded history) that quite a lot of the time that the solicitor and mother spent together was NOT in the role of solicitor and client giving privileged legal advice.
At this point, I am sorely tempted to do a riff about the sort of technical legal questions that might be posed by a client to their solicitor during said overnight staying visits, but that is beneath me. [It isn’t, but I’m sure you can think of your own material here, and it will be funnier than mine]
- The last matter concerns the position of the mother’s solicitor. I have not been asked to make any order about this and do not do so. However, it is a matter that is plainly relevant to the interests of the children and the integrity of the court proceedings as a whole.
- The mother wishes her solicitor to continue to act and the solicitor considers that he can do so.
- There may be no absolute bar on a personal relationship between solicitor and client but in this case I see grave difficulties for a number of reasons:
(1) This is a highly acrimonious dispute and the personal involvement of the mother’s solicitor exacerbates it.(2) In the course of this hearing alone, there have been several moments when the mother has been challenged about situations in which her solicitor would be a compellable witness. Two examples arose in relation to events on Sunday and Tuesday of this very week. Another example concerns the visit to Paris at half term. The father says that E was told not to tell him about this. The mother denies that. Where does that place the solicitor?
(3) Another concern arises about the solicitor also acting for a Mr C, who is providing information to the mother about the father.
(4) I refer to the solicitor’s response to the concerns raised on the father’s behalf. Four letters have been written asking for an explanation of the nature of his relationship with the mother. The only reply has been this: “The meetings between [the mother] and representatives of our firm are subject to legal professional privilege. However, without prejudice to that privilege, we can confirm that no discussions concerning the case have occurred or will occur in the presence of or in the hearing of the children.” That entirely unsatisfactory and, I am afraid to say, disingenuous response (and the fact that every subsequent request for information has been ignored) demonstrates that the solicitor is in a situation where he cannot give independent professional advice to the mother.
(5) I have serious concern about the mother’s position should her relationship with the solicitor come into difficulties at any time in the future, and about the solicitor’s position should he be challenged about his professional service.
(6) Lastly, at the end of the hearing, the parties asked me to determine an issue about distribution of monies due to be received by the father and subject to a freezing order. Those submissions revealed that in February, when the District Judge ordered the father to pay the mother £16,000 for her monthly legal bills, the solicitor’s relationship with the mother was not revealed to the father or the court. It was plainly a material and disclosable fact on such an application and I was surprised to hear a contrary submission. I shall not direct the release of litigation funds at this stage. The hearing in July will be an opportunity for the father to put his case on the issue.
- I am aware that the mother would be placed in great difficulty by the withdrawal of her solicitor, but the ends cannot justify the means if it is not proper for him to be acting.
- I direct the parties to refer these observations to the SRA and, if the solicitor continues to accept instructions, to any judge conducting future hearing
I am prepared to go out on a limb here, and say that if, as a lawyer, the final sixteen lines in a High Court judgment are ABOUT YOU, then things have gone badly wrong.
I don’t know what to advise this solicitor, who is clearly so irrestible to women that any thoughts of propriety have to go out of the window. Perhaps, and this is all I can offer, consider changing your aftershave?