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That, frankly, hit me like a dart

 

This is an ancillary relief case, in which Holman J was dealing with a disputed application for enforcement of financial orders made by Baker J. The case had run up costs of around £2.2 million.  At the hearing, the wife had given her evidence, and the husband had completed almost all of his evidence in chief.

 

And then, something happened that led Holman J to say the title of this piece.

This morning, the husband was in the course of giving his oral evidence-in-chief. I happened to comment to him how regrettable it was that these parties had not been able to resolve their differences by agreement long ago, before so much costs were incurred, which neither of them can apparently afford to pay. The husband then observed that it was I who had conducted the FDR. That, frankly, hit me like a dart. 

 

Holman J stopped the evidence, to take stock

 

I do not know what the husband might have been planning on going on to say with regard to the course or content of the FDR, for, of course, I immediately stopped him from saying any more. I broke off his evidence altogether whilst I and Mr Chandler, in particular, could take stock of the situation.

 

It was nobody’s fault that this had not been spotted.  The wife was in person, and husband’s counsel had been recently engaged and had huge amounts to deal with. Holman J had not himself spotted it, explaining of course that he had dealt with a huge number of cases in the intervening period.

 

  1. If any of the counsel who had appeared at the FDR were still engaged and appearing at this hearing, I have no doubt that any one or more of them would have flagged up at once that I had conducted the FDR and, accordingly, that I could not conduct this hearing. It also goes without saying that if I, personally, had had the least recollection or appreciation before this case began yesterday morning or, indeed, in its early stages yesterday morning, that I had conducted the FDR, I would have said unhesitatingly and without more ado that I was disqualified from conducting the present hearing and that another judge would have to be identified.
  2. I do not accept any personal responsibility for what has happened. So far as I am aware, there is nothing in any of the highly selective documents that have been prepared for the present hearing which identifies me as having conducted the FDR. As I commented earlier today, in the 18 months or so between the FDR on 15 December 2017 and late July 2019, I have probably conducted hearings in at least 500 cases, some of them long, some of them very short, and not including in that figure the very large number of cases that I consider and adjudicate upon on paper, in particular when sitting in the Administrative Court. So it did not impact upon me for one moment when I embarked upon this hearing that I had conducted the FDR. Frankly, it did not occur to me to enquire whether I had done so, because one is so accustomed to the lawyers for the parties, or the court administration, ensuring, in advance, that cases are not listed before the judge who conducted the FDR.

 

Having taken stock, both the husband and wife were prepared for Holman J, who was nearly half-way through the case to continue and see it through, despite the usual provisions that a Judge who dealt with the FDR plays no part in the later case.

 

(For those who don’t do money cases, an FDR is a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing, and the Judge at that hearing basically gives a steer as to what he or she would do, being able to speak freely because they would not be the Judge at a contested hearing. Sometimes that steer leads to one side or another being willing to compromise and the case settle. Sometimes, as here, it doesn’t and the case still goes on to a fight.   It is a bit like a Settlement Conference. So imagine a Settlement Conference, not working, and then a Care Order is made by another Judge and then later there’s an application for a Recovery Order that accidentally goes before the Judge who does the settlement conference, but it is only mid way through the evidence that this gets discovered )

 

However, Holman J looked carefully at the rules and found that rather than it being the Judge “should” not be involved in any further decisions, the wording was ‘must not’ and that he could not find a basis for allowing it, even with consent, although there was skilful argument that the overriding objective in the Family Procedure Rules might allow such a thing where both sides consented.

 

  1. I have, in the limited time available to me, given very careful and anxious consideration to whether, building upon what Lawrence Collins LJ had said at paragraph 35 and 36 and Goldring LJ had said at paragraph 61, I might hold that the requirement of the rule can be waived by the parties. Whilst in some circumstances at some future date it may be open to the Court of Appeal to develop the jurisprudence in that way, it currently seems to me that it is not open to me to do so. Those observations in those paragraphs are entirely obiter. As I have said, it seems to me that the policy as described by Thorpe LJ in paragraph 26 and his very clear statements in the last two sentences of paragraph 28 simply preclude waiver.
  2. For those reasons, and as it has now emerged (and has been checked and verified) that I did hear the FDR between these two parties on 15 December 2017, I conclude that the mandatory effect of rule 19.7(2) is simply that, as the rule says, I must have no further involvement with this matter at all. Judges have many powers and discretions under rules of court to relax, or even waive altogether, the impact of many rules upon a party or parties. But where a rule says, without discretion, that a judge must not do something, he must not do it. In a sentence, he must obey the law.
  3. For that reason, I propose to bring this hearing now to a complete halt. Anything that I have said during the course of the hearing, including indications that I gave as to the manner in which I intended to deal with some of the applications, are, in my view, complete nullities. This will have to go back to be heard from scratch before another judge on a date just as soon as it can be fixed.

 

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/2135.html

 

Shokrollah-Babaee v Shokrollah-Babae [2019] EWHC 2135 (Fam) (25 July 2019)    

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A witness talking over the lunch adjournment

I don’t often write about ancillary relief cases, but this one

 

JE (Husband) v ZK (wife) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B87.html

threw up an issue that we all trot out to witnesses on a daily basis and when I asked on Twitter about six months ago where you can find that actual rule written down, nobody was entirely sure.

When a witness is part way through their evidence, and the case comes to a break (either at the end of the day, or lunch), the witness is generally warned by the Judge “You should not discuss the case with any one, and you are still under Oath”

The still under Oath part must be right, since when the witness resumes, they do not have to take the Oath again.  Therefore, during that break in the evidence, the witness is still bound to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – technically, if the witness goes for a haircut and the hairdresser does that thing with a mirror where they show you the back of your own head, rather than the stock response of   :- nod “mmm, that’s great thanks” the witness ought to answer “I have no idea why you show me that, what is the point? Whatever you’ve done, it is too late to fix, and I don’t care what the back of my head looks like”

 

[Even worse, if you are still under Oath, and your new partner asks you “does my bum look big in this?”, you could be in for a world of trouble. Best to not talk to anyone at all]

The not discussing the case with anyone makes perfect common sense (which is unusual in law).  If you could talk about your evidence with someone whilst you were in the middle of giving it, they could be influencing what you say, or giving you tips as to how to do it better.  And if someone else in the case saw the witness talking to their lawyer or another party, they might well SUSPECT that this is what was happening, even if it wasn’t. So best not to do it.

The hard bit is finding where that rule is actually written down, and what the Judge is supposed to do about it.

 

Here, what happened was that the original Judge heard evidence that the husband, having given part of his evidence and then needing to come back over lunch, had been seen in the Court waiting room talking to his colleague NC (his colleague was also someone whom the husband had been renting accommodation from AND someone who was said to owe the husband £15,000, so it COULD be said that the conversation might have a bearing on financial matters)

The husband’s evidence was that he had asked NC about “Ironman” competitions and personal trainers, and nobody disputed that.

 

The District Judge had found that the father was in contempt, and said in his judgment

Is it relevant? I can hear being said! Well, yes, for this is the same man who remortgaged 141 Kings Road after having said through his solicitors that there were no grounds for saying that he was going to. Like that, his behaviour at the lunchtime was unacceptable’.

Now, importantly, this was a hearing where a financial order was made, concluding the financial arrangements. The District Judge was now in a pickle, because whilst saying that it was ‘relevant’  it clearly wasn’t conduct that could legitimately be taken into account for the purposes of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

The District Judge then made a clarifying note

In his clarifying note at B26 the District Judge said that he did not take the husband’s conduct in speaking to NC into account in his conclusion and that he ‘would have thought that was clear. It just had to be mentioned, it as so blatant’.

 

Part of the husband’s appeal was that the judgment was thus blurred about whether or not this issue had weighed on the judicial determination of finances.

 

Dealing with the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC said this:-

  1. Quite plainly, that conversation between the husband and NC had absolutely nothing to do with the correct outcome of the financial remedy applications. It was a complete irrelevance, as far as the solution to the case was concerned. It certainly was not conduct that the court could possibly take into account when deciding upon the correct outcome. It had no relevance under any of the other factors under section 25 of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and cannot be salvaged by reference to ‘all the circumstances of the case’ in s 25(1) of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
  2. I accept that the District Judge does not then tie in the finding that this issue was ‘relevant’ when later explaining his conclusions. At B15 he says that he is departing from quality bearing in mind the wife’s need for her to provide a home for the children. Further, at B6 he says: ‘there are two aspects of the husband’s affairs which I take into account within all the circumstances of the case and which make me satisfied that my decision is appropriate. First the dissipation of assets referred to in paragraph 4 above and, secondly, the opaque business relationship with Mr Clarke’. Although there are obvious difficulties with that past passage to which I must return, he does not say that the ‘contempt’ finding is relevant in that later passage.
  3. The difficulty is this. If a judge says that something is relevant in the sort of strong terms used by the District Judge he must mean what he says. A judgment has to be capable of being understood on its face and a party to the proceedings must be able to understand the methodology of the court. It seems highly likely that, at the time that he wrote the judgment, the District Judge did regard this issue as relevant to how the capital should be divided (because he said so himself at B15). I do not accept Ms Allen’s clever submission that he meant ‘Is it relevant for me to mention it?’ at B15; that interpretation does not fit in with the context of what he was saying. He associated it with the husband’s conduct in re-mortgaging the property at Kings Rd [B15] and, later took that remortgage into account at B16. The reality is that the District Judge was making findings of conduct and saying that he treated them as relevant. He was incorrect to do so and a clear statement in a judgment that something is treated as relevant cannot be cured by a clarifying note.

 

 

[This Judge was more sanguine about the incident itself than the DJ had been

 

iii) The finding of contempt was inappropriate and unnecessary to the exercise that the District Judge had to perform. The husband was wrong to speak to NC over lunch having been warned not to do so but the conduct complained of (speaking about personal trainers and an Ironman competition) had nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the case but was described by the District Judge as ‘relevant’ to it. I know the Gloucester waiting area well having appeared there as an advocate myself in my 27 years at the bar, and can well imagine what occurred (and what did occur happened in the full view of the lawyers and was not remotely surreptitious).   ]

 

His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, with some reluctance, had to allow the appeal and discharge the financial order that had been made. I say with reluctance, because the Judge had earlier expressed substantial dismay that two people who had once been in love had spent a “Scandalous” amount of money in ligitation

 

  1. The District Judge said that the costs were scandalous. I agree. The total that has been spent in legal costs now is as follows:
    Wife’s costs before the District Judge 62,171
    Husband’s costs before the District Judge 28,799
    Husband’s appellate costs 12,849.26
    Wife’s appellate costs (at least) 20,000
    Total 123,819.26
  2. This is not a complex case. It involves a home, a working husband who is effectively a sole trader, a few modest assets, considerable liabilities, two children and a depressed wife. For money to have been wasted on such disproportionate costs is truly scandalous. Further, these parties have two children – what sort of example do they set their children when they spend so much of the money that should be directed to their children’s welfare on blinkered and self validating litigation?
  3. I am particularly critical of the level of this wife’s costs. They are double those of the husband and nothing that I have seen gets anywhere near justifying that. I have myself witnessed two wholly unnecessary applications being brought by the wife: a) for transcripts of all of the evidence before the District Judge to be ordered at the husband’s expense for the purposes of the appeal, an application which I did not allow and b) a full legal services application, when the correct application should have been for a partial release on a stay which, when I suggested it, was agreed on the evening before a hearing of the legal services application brought by the wife and only after considerable cost expenditure (W’s claimed costs £3875.70). Further, I consider that money has been wasted on obtaining expert evidence about the suggested value of the husband’s business when that capital value was abandoned (rightly) at trial and was never going to have the sort of relevance originally suggested. That expenditure on costs took place against the backcloth of strong complaint made by the husband before the District Judge about the wife’s costs expenditure (see A1 – no trial bundle, no open offer, no updating disclosure and a late production of her s 25 statement that had been prepared three months before the hearing started but was filed seven days before the hearing started).
  4. The above remarks must be before any judge assessing costs in this case and I ask that there is very careful scrutiny of the costs that are being claimed by the wife’s legal team. It cannot be right that this level of cost expenditure occurs in a case of such modest assets. The costs claimed are about 36% of the total assets held, according to the District Judge by the parties. The burden that this now creates upon the parties, especially the wife must be immense.
  5. The District Judge found that the total pot of capital in the case was £345,686

 

Towards the end of the judgment, HH J Wildblood QC set down a marker for future litigation conduct

86….I wish to make it plain that, if I find any more money is being wasted by this wife on costs, I will impose costs sanctions – if she, or the husband, pursues any more pointless or unmeritorious issues I will reflect that in a costs order (and I say that without prejudice to any arguments and applications that may be advanced about existing cost expenditure). It seems to me at least highly possible that past dissipation of assets (which in a big money case can be of obvious importance) may be regarded as totally overshadowed now with the exigencies of the current very limited financial circumstances of these parties with the true focus of this case now being on the limited issues that I have set out above – especially relevant will be these questions: i) Where are these people to live and ii) what incomes are these people to have?.

  1. Although I am not in any way deciding the point now, I foresee that the husband will have a difficult task in contending that this wife should face a time limit to any order for periodical payments particularly if it involves a s28(1A) bar but even without such a bar.
  2. I intend that the above issues must be adhered to. There will be no more profligate expenditure on legal costs. To that end I wish to record that any District Judge assessing the costs of either party from this point on until conclusion of the rehearing should disallow that parties’ costs insofar as the costs of any party (from this point onwards) exceed £7,500 unless a) any party has made submissions to me that I should revise that figure or b) the judge carrying out the assessment considers that an extension beyond that figure was genuinely necessary.
  3. I strongly recommend now that the parties make every effort to resolve their differences without the need for the rehearing to take place.
  4. I reserve the costs of the appeal until conclusion of the rehearing. Both of these parties know what their own financial circumstances are and, with the level of costs that she has incurred, the wife should know about her tax credit position (and, if she doesn’t she needs to find it out hurriedly). Although I do not know what the husband’s income is, he does. If it were to be shown on fresh evidence that the District Judge was correct about his income, that would be bound to have an impact on the orders for costs that I would make.

Taking forty thousand pounds in cash to Pizza Express

 

I mean, I know it is a tad more expensive than other pizza restaurants, and yes those doughballs ARE tempting, but I don’t think you need to go with that much cash in your back pocket.

Kaur v Randhawa 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1592.html

This is an ancillary relief case in which the Ex Wife (who we’ll call Wife) was making applications for the Ex-Husband (who we’ll call Husband) to make good on the payment that he had been ordered to pay her in the final order of their divorce settlement. He had been ordered to pay her £80,000.

The Husband had a retort to this, which is that he had met with his Wife months earlier and agreed to pay her forty thousand pounds in cash, as a full and final settlement.  (It isn’t wonderfully clear why she’d agree to take £40,000 when a Court had just ordered that she would get £80,000, and the argument that it was ‘so that she wouldn’t lose her benefits’ isn’t that convincing)

The Husband’s case is that he met with the Wife in Pizza Express  (in Slough) and there handed her £40,000 in notes. Assuming that they were in £50 notes, that’s 800 notes.  One fifty pound note weighs 1.1 grams, so 40k is 800 grams or 1.75 pounds for the more experienced reader.

If you piled up £40k in fifty pound notes, it is about ten inches high.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even in Slough, where people routinely light their Romeo y Julietta cigars with crisp fifty pound notes, a ten inch thick pile of banknotes is going to attract some attention.

 

[I’m grateful to this website for allowing me to calculate and visualise just what £40,000 in cash might look like

http://www.reviewmylife.co.uk/blog/2010/05/09/what-does-one-million-pounds-look-like/ ]

 

 

One might imagine that if you were handing over £40,000 in cash, in full and final settlement of an £80k debt, you’d want to get some proof of that.

 

7. the husband says that in December 2013 he met the wife (and their child) at a Pizza Express in Slough where he paid her £40,000 in cash she having earlier agreed with him to accept this sum in satisfaction of her entitlement under the order. He says she agreed to accept this lesser sum in cash so that her receipt of benefits would not be disturbed. She agreed that her “charge” over the property would be lifted on payment of the £40,000.

  1. The wife flatly denies this. She says that the last time she met the husband was in 2011.
  2. The husband says that he borrowed the £40,000 from his brother. It was in £50 notes in packets of £2,500 – 16 packets in all. He says his brother came with him as well as another person who would act as a witness. He says that he took photos on his phone of him handing over the money but unfortunately he has since lost the phone. He says that his brother told him to get a receipt but he did not do so, as he trusted his wife. He said he had Facebook messages which would prove that the wife received the money.
  3. The brother says that he had the £40,000 in his safe. Alternatively he may have got it out via a casino. At an earlier hearing he had explained to me that “whenever we need cash, yes, I often go to a casino and take out the money there because its very lot easier to take it out”. He says he accompanied the husband to Slough with the cash. He advised the husband to get a receipt. He did not see the husband hand over the money. He did see the wife walking past in the street. The husband did not mention taking photographs. He could not remember if they brought a third person with them; they might have done.
  4. These stories, which were given in witness statements, were repeated from the witness box on oath.

 

Just to pull that together, the Husband got £40k in fifty pound notes, in sixteen separate bundles, and he got this from his brother, who got it from a safe, or from a casino. And they didn’t get a receipt. And he took photos, but those photos were on his phone, which is now lost. And he took a witness but can’t produce that witness.

 

One would expect that if the Wife was being handed a ten inch pile of fifty pound notes in Pizza Express that their waiter  “Hi, I’m Russell and I’ll be your waiter tonight” was lingering around and being particularly attentive in the hope of a really good tip.  I would have tried to track him down, I bet he would have remembered it either way.

Do you think Mostyn J went for this plausible account?

I have no hesitation in rejecting the evidence of the husband and his brother. I am certain it is false. Not only is it implausible in the extreme but it is not corroborated by contemporaneous documentary evidence or subsequent events. The husband has not produced any evidence from the alleged witness. His printouts of his Facebook account show no admissions from the wife (although the husband says that those were in audio clips which are referred to in the printouts.) The brother’s bank account does not show £40,000 taken from a casino at that time. It shows over four days in December 2013 £35,000 paid into a casino and £50,000 paid out, a net withdrawal of £15,000. Perhaps most significantly on 12 February 2014 in a conversation with the wife’s solicitor the husband said he “was not going to comply with the order”. In that conversation, as recorded in the attendance note, the husband did not say that two months earlier he had paid the wife £40,000 in cash which she had accepted in full satisfaction of her entitlement under the order. It is inconceivable that he would not have mentioned this if it had in fact happened.

 

If you ARE going to claim that you paid your wife 40 grand in used fifties, but that you can’t prove it in any way, it is probably NOT a good idea to tell her solicitor two months after the alleged transaction  when they ask you for the money  that you aren’t going to pay it, rather than “I have already paid her it”

 

Not only did Mostyn J not believe the Husband and make orders that the proper sum of money owed to the Wife would have to be paid, but he ruled that the Husband should pay the Wife’s legal costs at an indemnity rate (i.e as though her firm were charging private client rates rather than legal aid)and his Brother should have their evidence considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether they should face trial for perjury.

 

 

 

  1. If an inter partes order for indemnity costs were made against the brother and the husband on a joint and several basis then the wife’s solicitors would be entitled to relinquish the legal aid certificate and be paid on a private basis. This is perfectly acceptable; indeed given the very low rates of pay by the agency legal aid firms depend on such orders for their survival.
  2. In my judgment the disgraceful conduct of the husband and the brother well justify an order for indemnity costs. The freezing order will remain in place until the balance of the costs award has been ascertained and paid. Obviously the freezing order is varied to permit the third party debt order to be executed.
  3. I direct that this judgment and the court bundle be sent to the DPP for her to consider whether proceedings for perjury should be brought against the husband and the brother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenging a consent order

 

It is not every day that you see the President of the Family Division have to consider whether a Practice Direction is, in part, ultra vires. This is one of those days.

 

Re CS v ACS and Another 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1005.html

 

The case hinged on the legal mechanisms for challenging a consent order.

The language of Practice Direction 30A (on appeals) is very very stark

PD30A para 14.1, headed ‘Appeals against consent orders’ provides that:

“The rules in Part 30 and the provisions of this Practice Direction apply to appeals relating to orders made by consent in addition to orders which are not made by consent. An appeal is the only way in which a consent order can be challenged” (emphasis added).

 

So, the only route is by appeal.

However, wait

section 31F(3) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 (as inserted by the Crimes and Courts Act 2013) provides that:

“Every judgment and order of the family court is, except as provided by this or any other Act or by rules of court, final and conclusive between the parties.”

However, section 31F(6) provides that:

“The family court has power to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it, including –

(a) power to rescind an order and re-list the application on which it was made,

(b) power to replace an order which for any reason appears to be invalid by another which the court has power to make, and

(c) power to vary an order with effect from when it was originally made.”

Rule 4.1(6) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which is in identical terms to rule 3.1(7) of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, provides that:

“A power of the court under these rules to make an order includes a power to vary or revoke the order.”

So that’s a statutory mechanism to invite a Court to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it.

There are also a line of authorities (including marvellously one named Tibbles) showing that there are two routes – either appeal, or application to the original Judge to rescind or set aside the original order  (there are limitations to that power – either material change of circumstances, or establishing that the factual basis on which the order was made was incorrect – the classic example being ancillary relief cases where financial agreement was reached and people learn later that there had been concealment of substantial assets which make the consent order unfair)

So, which is right?

  1. Mr Brunsdon Tully takes his stand on PD30A, para 14.1. He points to Financial Remedies Practice 2015 where the editors, who include both Sir Peter Singer and Mostyn J, suggest (para 4.8) that the old cases suggesting that such applications could be made at first instance “are all now overreached” and (para 30.97) that “that single short sentence in PD30A had rendered otiose a great deal of sterile case law”. In previous editions the editors had added “This long overdue reform is much to be welcomed.” Mostyn J has expressed similar views judicially (see below).
  2. Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard point to the more sceptical view expressed by the editors of Dictionary of Financial Remedies, 2015 edition, page 65, where, after saying that “There is an element of confusion about the appropriate way of launching an application of this nature”, they opine that “the most likely solution” is an application under FPR 4.1(6).
  3. Following the hearing it occurred to me that there might be a question as to whether the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, was ultra vires. On 21 March 2015 I sent counsel a draft judgment setting out my preliminary conclusion that it was ultra vires. I invited counsel to make any further submissions they wished. Both Mr Brunsdon Tully and Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard availed themselves of the opportunity.
  4. The power to make Practice Directions in relation to family proceedings is conferred by section 81 of the Courts Act 2003. Section 81(1) confers power to make directions as to “practice and procedure”. Section 81(2A) provides that directions as to the practice and procedure of any relevant court in family proceedings “may provide for any matter which … may be provided for by Civil Procedure Rules.” As Mr Brunsdon Tully points out, PD30A was made by the then President of the Family Division in accordance with Schedule 2 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and approved by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

 

 

As can be seen above, the PD was made by the former President Wall LJ and approved by the Minister. Consideration that both acted ultra vires in relation to that passage is significant.

 

Let us have a quick gander at the legal arguments  (there’s much much much more of this, I’ve tried to grab the bits where they are distilled)

  1. Mr Brunsdon Tully submits that, since FPR 4.1(6) is identical to CPR 3.1(7), there is no reason why the principle spelt out by Hughes LJ should not apply equally in family cases. In particular, he says, there can be no question of the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, being ultra vires, for all it does is to bring the limited class of case to which it applies into line with the true meaning and effect of CPR 3.1(7), and thus of FPR 4.1(6), as explained in Roult.
  2. He adds three supplemental submissions. First, he submits that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, does not encroach on the right of a litigant to apply to the court or on the substantive legal remedies available to a litigant if material non-disclosure is proved; it merely stipulates the procedural route, namely appeal, under which all these remedies are available. I cannot accept that: it encroaches upon the right of a litigant to apply to the court without first obtaining permission. Secondly, he submits that the power of the family court to exercise its powers under section 31F(6) is not fettered, either by FPR 4.1(6) or by the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, because an appeal from a district judge sitting in the family court lies to another judge, either a Circuit Judge or a judge of the High Court, of the family court. This, however, as Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard point out, overlooks the fact that the powers conferred by section 31F(6) of the 1984 Act include powers to “vary, suspend [or] rescind” any order. Thirdly, he submits that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, which is the relevant provision in issue here, is not the rule that imposes the requirement that the litigant can proceed only with permission, and in any event a permission requirement is not a fetter or encroachment on the court’s powers such as to lead to a conclusion that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, is ultra vires. The first part of this is, with respect, legal sophistry: since any appeal requires permission, a provision that challenge can only be made by way of an appeal is, in its effect, a provision imposing a requirement that the litigant can proceed only with permission. I have already said that I do not accept the argument that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, does not fetter or encroach on the rights of the litigant or, consequently, on the powers of the court.
  3. In response, Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard submit, by reference to more recent authorities, that Mr Brunsdon Tully reads more than is warranted into Roult. They submit that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, purports to abrogate what they say is a long-established and indeed recently recognised right to challenge, at first instance, and without being subjected to any sort of prior filter by way of application for leave (see Re C (Financial Provision: Leave to Appeal) [1993] 2 FLR 799, 801), an order such as the one I am concerned with here. They submit that this right is recognised by both section 31F(6) and FPR 4.1(6). They point to Binks v Securicor Omega Express Ltd [2003] EWCA Civ 993, para 8, and Brennan v ECO Composting Ltd [2006] EWHC 3153 (QB), [2007] 1 WLR 773, para 28, as showing that in case of conflict between a rule and a practice direction, the practice direction must yield to the rule.

 

In my new technique of establishing whose argument is best – where I take the names of the authorities that each relies on and decide which of those sound more intriguing, I would rule that Binks, and Eco Composting are going to beat Roult.  Over a period of time, I hope to demonstrate that this methodology is (a) dazzlingly accurate and (b) if adopted wholesale would lead to really interesting law reports with mind-boggling case names being pressed into service by each side.   [If anyone can successfully work “Four Exotic Dancers versus Spearmint Rhino and the Wild Goose 2009” or “Death v Graves 2006” into their skeletons, they richly deserve a victory]

The President used more established methodology in deciding which argument was correct.

  1. In the light of this survey of the authorities, I conclude that the decision in Roult will not bear the weight of the argument that Mr Brunsdon Tully seeks to derive from it. In common with Mostyn J in In re F, I read the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Musa v Karim, Sharland v Sharland and Gohil v Gohil (No 2) as demonstrating that FPR 4.1(6) continues to permit what had long been established, namely that an application such as the one being made here by the wife can be made to the judge at first instance.
  2. What then of the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1? In my judgment, and with all respect to the makers of PD30A, it was ultra vires their powers. And if that is so, then I can without more ado say so and treat it as a nullity: compare General Mediterranean Holdings SA v Patel and Another [2000] 1 WLR 272, where, in the course of ordinary proceedings in the Queen’s Bench Division, CPR rule 48.7(3) was held to be ultra vires. (I make clear that I refer to this case, which was very different from the present case, not in support of my conclusion that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, was ultra vires but only as to the procedural consequences which flow from such a finding.)
  3. There are essentially two reasons which lead me to this conclusion. First, and whatever the exact ambit of the phrase “practice and procedure” in section 81(1) of the 2003 Act, it cannot in my judgment extend, as here, to a provision purporting to forbid a litigant to have recourse to a form of remedy long recognised by the common law, let alone to a remedy expressly conferred by both statute (section 31F(6) of the 1984 Act) and rule (FPR 4.1(6)). Secondly, there is, for the reasons given by Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard, a conflict between, on the one hand, the statute and the rule and, on the other hand, the practice direction, which requires the latter to yield to the former.
  4. It follows, in my judgment, that the wife is entitled to proceed as she has and that she does not require the permission of the court to do so.
  5. More than 25 years after Ward J’s first complaint, too little has yet been done to remedy matters. The continuing complexity of the law is exemplified by the necessarily detailed analysis of the point by the editors of Financial Remedies Practice 2015, paras 4.5-4.17. The continuing lack of clarity is illustrated by my analysis in this judgment. It is profoundly unsatisfactory that the courts should still have to take up so much of their time and their litigants’ resources dealing with such matters. The final Report of the Financial Remedies Working Group, 15 December 2014, expressed the view (para 13) that “clarification of the procedures for re-opening first instance orders in financial remedy proceedings is required” and said that it “would strongly support amendments to the Family Procedure Rules for that purpose.” I doubt that anyone could possibly disagree. Remedial work is now a matter of pressing urgency, unless we are complacently to condemn another generation of litigants to a procedural maze which is a discredit to family justice. I add only this. The Working Party may wish to consider the extent to which these problems are capable of solution by either Rule or Practice Direction. It may be that primary legislation is required

 

Until that time, both routes are potentially open, and it will depend on the circumstances which is the best approach. The rest of PD 30A remains valid, but you can draw a line through para 14.1 now.

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.

Capacity and financial consent orders

 

MAP v RAP 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4784.html

 

I don’t often write on the financial side of legal family disputes (I haven’t done divorce law for about ten years, and it is the sort of thing that you rapidly lose expertise in), but this particular ancillary relief case also touches on capacity, and particularly capacity to enter into agreements, so it has some broader impact.

 

The High Court were dealing here with the wife’s challenge to a financial consent order that she had signed, having dismissed her solicitors. At a later stage, she considered that she had not been in a mental frame of mind where she could properly enter into that consent order – i.e the issue was whether she had capacity to sign it at the time, not just that she signed it and later thought better of it. She had had a long-standing difficulty with bi-polar disorder, which can be a fluctuating condition.   This was thus the wife’s appeal of the Judge’s order to approve the financial consent order as final settlement of the financial claims arising from divorce.

 

The appeal was determined by Mostyn J  (back on his area of particular expertise after something of a break)

 

The permission is sought to appeal this order well out of time on a number of grounds:
 

 

1. first, it is said that at the time that the order was made and indeed in the antecedent period leading up to the making of the order, there is prima facie evidence that the proposed appellant, the wife in the divorce proceedings, did not have capacity to enter into that compromise;
2. second, it is said that the court itself had no knowledge of the appellant’s state of mental health, and therefore approved an order on a false or mis-stated basis;
3. third, it is said that – and this ground has shades of duress – that the respondent husband exploited the appellant’s vulnerable position;
4. further, it is said that he at the material time was guilty of material non-disclosure;
5. next it is said that at the relevant time the appellant had inadequate knowledge and was without legal advice; and
6. further, it is said that, looked at overall, the consent order was wrong and should not have been approved, as it was manifestly unfair. It is said – I believe this to be arguable, but it is certainly not agreed – that the effect of the order was to divide the parties’ capital about 80 per cent to the husband and 20 per cent to the wife. Moreover, within the the share that the wife was left with were monies which derived from an inheritance from her mother, and indeed a considerable part of the share that the husband was left with derived from the wife’s mother’s inheritance;
7. finally, it was said that the agreement was demonstrably wrong and unfair because it provided for a clean break leaving the husband with his earnings and pension and the wife only with a modest pension for herself.

 

On the ground that the consent order was unfair, or so demonstrably wrong that a Judge ought not to have made it, even though it was a consent order, Mostyn J rejected that utterly

 

I say immediately before I turn to the facts, that inasmuch as a claim is advanced based on non-disclosure or that the consent order was generally unfair, I am completely satisfied that the proposed appeal has no prospect of success. As to the first, the evidence advanced for non-disclosure is but faintly put, and in my view does not come anywhere near establishing the criterion of arguability. As to the complaint that the agreement was generally unfair, that is not a valid basis for seeking to challenge a consent order. (See the decision of Mr. Justice Munby (as he then was) in L v L [2008] 1 FLR 26 at para.105).

 

The appeal therefore was squarely on the basis that the Wife lacked capacity to sign the consent order at that time. Mostyn J remarks that despite people arguing about divorce (and particularly money divorce) for over a century, this is the first time that this particular issue has arisen.

 

Mostyn J, borrowing from the  civil law, and civil procedures, arrives at the conclusion that an order made by consent by a party who lacks capacity to consent is an order that would be invalid and should be set aside. The difficulty of course, is in establishing capacity or lack of it  (remember from the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that the starting point is that a person HAS capacity unless there is evidence to the contrary). The order having been made, an appeal was an appropriate route to challenge it.

 

Mostyn J points to the provisions of Practice Direction 15B (not in force at the time, but in force now)

At the relevant time, I do not believe that Practice Direction 15B was in force, but a Practice Note issued by the Family Justice Council in April 2010 which is in the same terms, more or less, was available. Practice Direction 15B makes it clear that there is a duty on solicitors if they have concerns that a party may lack capacity, that they must notify the court. Paragraph 1.3 says:
 

 

“If at any time during proceedings there is reason to believe that a party may lack capacity to conduct the proceedings, then the court must be notified and directions sought to ensure that this issue is investigated without delay”.
 

It is a surprising fact that neither solicitor at any stage thought it appropriate to notify the court that there may be question marks over the wife’s capacity. The wife’s solicitors themselves were well aware that there were question marks in this regard as a letter was written by them to their opponents on 23rd January 2012 stating:
 

 

“We remain concerned as to our client’s capacity to provide instructions, and accordingly are seeking clarity on this point”.
I should say that that letter that was written when the wife was acting for herself but when her solicitors were presumably still formally on the record. It is fair to me to record Mr. Castle’s submission that at that time the view was taken by the author of that letter only on looking at the papers, but be that as it may that question mark should have led those solicitors to have notified the court. Equally, the husband’s solicitors were well aware in September 2011 that the appellant had been admitted to hospital, there was a letter to that effect, and they must have formed views as to the capacity of the wife, but they did not notify the court. Had the court been notified then I do not believe we would be in the position we now are.

 

What the Court had was evidence about the Wife’s mental health difficulties and that before the consent order had been entered into, her mental health seemed to have deteriorated in such a way that those advising her were concerned about her capacity. But the Wife stopped instructing solicitors and by the time she signed the consent order, she was representing herself. Thus, there was no hard and fast evidence about the state of her capacity and ability to make reasoned decisions on the day she signed the consent order.

 

Capacity for the purposes of entering into a compromise was discussed by the Court of Appeal in the first Dunhill v Burgin case and in the prior case of Bailey v Warren [2006] EWCA (Civ) 51. In that latter case at para.126, Lady Justice Arden said this:
 

 

“The assessment of capacity to conduct proceedings depends to some extent on the nature of the proceedings in contemplation. I can only indicate some of the matters to be considered in accessing a client’s capacity. The client would need to understand how the proceedings were to be funded. He would need to know about the chances of not succeeding and about the risk of an adverse order as to costs. He would need to have capacity to make the sort of decisions that are likely to arise in litigation. Capacity to conduct such proceedings would include the capacity to give proper instructions for and to approve the particulars of claim, and to approve a compromise. For a client to have capacity to approve a compromise, he would need insight into the compromise, an ability to instruct his solicitors to advise him on it, and an understanding of their advice and an ability to weigh their advice”.
 

Applying this test I believe that it is arguable, indeed strongly arguable, that between the time that the consent order was said to be formed in August 2011, right through to the time that the consent order was made on 19th April 2012 the wife did not have the requisite capacity while she was in hospital. In my view the case that she had capacity at that time is unarguable. Following her return from hospital it is true that she gained some kind of an improvement although she remained heavily medicated, but as against that one has to remember that she was making the impulsive and unwise decision to represent herself. So, I am of the view that there is an issue of capacity that deserves to be tried.
 

 

It is a pity that the Supreme Court has not pronounced, because there is a division between the judges in the jurisprudence as to whether the capacity in question should be investigated along a prolonged timeline, or just at the point of the contract itself. But, either way, I believe that the case is distinctly arguable, and so I would grant permission to appeal in relation to that ground as well as into the ground of lack of actual consent or withdrawal of consent. But, as I have indicated, I believe that this is a matter which can properly be tried at first instance.

 

Mostyn J did not determine the appeal finally, but merely those procedural points – could the Wife apply to set aside the consent order, would the consent order be invalid if she were proven to lack capacity at the time, and what the mechanism for the appeal would be.  The appeal itself was listed for two days and a lot will turn on the evidence in relation to capacity.

 

[It is possible, particularly when one looks at detailed consent orders about contact, that the same issues could arise. It would be prudent to look at Practice Direction 15B and to alert the Court if such concerns arise]

popping your towel on a sunlounger to bask in English justice

 

Every once in a while, looking up from a life of flea-bites, crack cocaine and bureacracy, it is nice to see how the other half live.  This post is sponsored by Dentists of England, as there may be some grinding of teeth amongst the readers.

 

Chai v Peng 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1519.html

These are divorce proceedings going on in the High Court. So far, the husband has spent about £1.1 million on lawyers, and the wife nearly £1.3 million.  Thus far, they haven’t even resolved whether the divorce and financial proceedings will be heard in Malaysia or England.  That’s right, they’ve spent nearly £2.5 million just arguing about where the argument will take place.

That includes a round-table meeting in Paris (although all of the lawyers are from London), which cost in total £88,000  and you have to inspect the judgment very very carefully to glean any constructive benefit out of that meeting

As an example, Mr Bishop instances the costs of the trip to Paris this very week. I have been told that the total amount to be billed by the husband’s solicitors, Payne Hicks Beach, will be £19,250 plus a small amount for hotel expenditure. Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia charged herself out at £620 an hour for ten hours, making £6,200. Her assistant, Mr Parry-Smith, was charged out at £245 for ten hours, making £2,450. Mr Bishop himself charged a fee of £10,000. There were some travelling costs totalling £650, making the total of £19,250. By contrast, on the wife’s side, the accountant employed by Vardags was charged out at £11,500; Mr Todd charged £25,200; Mr Yates charged £12,600, and the two solicitors from Vardags charged in aggregate £16,220. Those figures total £65,520. It is right to say that they are inclusive of VAT whereas no VAT was charged to the husband. Additionally, there were certain travel and hotel disbursements on the wife’s side making the total £68,000. So Mr Bishop says that if you compare the approximate £20,000 that the husband incurred on this day meeting in Paris with the £68,000 that the wife incurred, it really just goes to show how excessive and profligate her lawyers’ expenditure has been.

 

If you aren’t a family lawyer and are thinking how outrageous it is that your lawyer earns that sort of money, they don’t – your lawyer is as open-mouthed about those sums as you are. And is probably wishing that they hadn’t decided that ancillary relief sounded dull when they forged their career path.

[That did sidetrack me, on realising that the husband’s solicitor is a Baroness, to wondering whether in terms of etiquette the QC and perhaps even the Judge  have to bow to the solicitor if she stands up… probably not in Court itself, but I wonder about how it all works elsewhere]

A lot of this particular hearing was taken up with an exceedingly technical matter – the wife had issued her petition here and there had been a huge dispute about the basis on which she claimed jurisdiction. Her lawyers, hoping to cut through some of that, had a redrafted petition, and wanted to ditch petition 1 and proceed with petition 2.  It seems that there is not scope to withdraw a petition (fairly uniquely amongst litigation, almost any other application can be withdrawn) so effectively the Court would have to dismiss petition 1.  The husband, though wanting the entireity of the divorce petitions in the UK to go away, didn’t want the wife to be able to ditch petition 1 (because presumably his argument on jurisdiction was stronger on petition 1)

 

This might be my favourite line of the week

 

  • By their written submissions and during the course of Mr Bishop’s oral submissions today, we have heard the familiar metaphors of floodgates, and coaches and horses, with some other metaphors, including trying to enter the proceedings by a different back door, and trying to reset the clock. The most colourful metaphor, in paragraph 47 of their written document, is as follows:

 

 

 

“To file prematurely is the equivalent of laying one’s towel at dawn upon the sun lounger of the English court and returning at high noon to bask in the warmth of the law of England and Wales on divorce and financial remedies.”

To be fair, whilst that line is brilliantly evocative, it probably cost the husband a few thousand pounds to draft and refine.

The thrust of the husband’s argument was that to allow mother to strike the first blow with a dodgy petition, and then having started proceedings in England on a flawed basis got to have another crack at it would be opening the door to “forum shoppers”   (litigants who want to come to the UK for their divorce because there will be a more beneficial settlement)

But behind all these metaphors, the essential argument is that what the wife has done, and now seeks to do, is an abuse of the process, and that if I countenance it and give effect to it I would be opening the door or, indeed, floodgates, to a torrent of forum shopping divorce petitions or applications here. Mr Bishop said, indeed, that if I accede to this application I would become “the friend of the forum shopper”. I very much doubt whether there is currently any judge of the Family Division who is less of a friend of forum shoppers than myself. I have, I think, made very plain, even in my first judgment in this case, how much I deplore the legal manoeuvrings that are forum shopping at enormous expense, clogging up the courts, and deflecting from focus on the real issue of fair financial negotiation.

The Judge carefully looks at the arguments (which are technical even beyond the scope of this blog) and reaches this conclusion

  • I wish to make crystal clear that my decision in this case is utterly fact-specific to the facts and circumstances of this case and no other. I am not a friend of the forum shopper. I have not the slightest desire or intention of opening floodgates or driving perilously on a coach and horses. If I thought for one moment that the wife and/or her advisers had at any stage acted in bad faith, then, of course, I would take a very different view. Mr Bishop makes plain that he makes no allegation of bad faith against Vardags, nor of course against the wife’s team of barristers. But he does say that she has acted in bad faith and that she was deliberately placing her towel on the sun lounger long before she was entitled to do so, as she well knew. I repeat, there is not a word of evidence in this case by or on behalf of the husband. I do not have the least reason to conclude that when the petition was presented in February 2013 either the wife personally or her advisers were acting in bad faith, or intending to act abusively. No doubt they foresaw the possibility of a jurisdiction race and felt that there were advantages in rapidly petitioning here. But it was, and remains, her case that the jurisdictional bases were made out and it has not in any way been established that they were not.

 

 

  • In my view, on the facts and in the circumstances of the present case, no real question of principle arises despite the attractive and valiant arguments of Mr Bishop, Mrs. Bailey-Harris and Miss Cook. Rather, I do feel that in exercise of my own duties under the overriding objective and rule 1 of the Family Procedure Rules, I should enable the wife to do what she now seeks to do, which I hope at any rate may eliminate or narrow some of the areas in dispute. So, for those reasons, I do intend unconditionally to dismiss the present petition that was filed on 14th February 2013 and the order must, of course, make express on its face that I do so without any adjudication whatsoever on any of the merits of any aspect of that petition, whether as to jurisdiction or the unreasonable behaviour alleged, or any other matters within it. I do not then need to say anything permissive at all for the wife to present a fresh petition, for she is simply enabled to go forthwith to the registry, pay the fee and do so.

The next issue was maintenance pending suit – in effect the wife taking money out of her share communal pot that would come to her eventually but were in husband’s control at present – this was to pay her legal costs. Her legal team asked for £100,000 per month, and an additional £115,000 to clear her outstanding balance.

 

Maybe this is my favourite line, it is hard to choose between this and sun-loungers

The original bid on behalf of the wife, in Mr Todd’s and Mr Yates’ skeleton argument, at paragraph 81, was for a little short of £100,000 per calendar month, or half a million pounds between now and the further hearing in October. That seems to me to be excessive and going beyond the bounds of what I can properly order having regard to the new legislation and earlier authority. In the light of an indication from me that I was unlikely to make an order in that sum, and indeed that if that was what Vardags and the present legal team required then the wife would have to consider instructing cheaper lawyers, Mr Todd revised his proposed figure this afternoon to £60,000 a month inclusive of VAT

 

It does occur to me that these plucky British lawyers are essentially liberating millions from the Malaysian economy (in the form of the husband’s assets) and ploughing them into the British economy – that’s an extra £30k tax per month for the British economy, not to mention that the £30k that is left will be spent by the lawyers on shopping, providing a valuable boost.  They need to stop going to Paris though, that’s not helping.