A warning for over-enthusiastic divorce lawyers this week. Please read slowly and carefully because it’s difficult to keep up with the twists and turns on this one.
In what was billed as a test case, celebrity chef Marco Pierre-White has won a (very) public apology from his wife’s divorce lawyers. The couple are still married after rekindling their romance last Christmas following three years of bitter feuding in the divorce courts.
The multi-millionaire chef decided to sue his wife’s legal team for “dirty tricks” during the proceedings, which included taking personal correspondence, some relating to his finances. The case was thrown out by the High Court in 2008, but reinstated by the Court of Appeal in 2009. Last week it was announced they had reached an out-of-court settlement, including the embarrassing apology. It is believed that White’s legal fees have also been paid and a chunk of the fees owed by his wife to the solicitors written off.
The “dirty tricks” relate to advice given to wife Mati to intercept her husband’s personal post to the family home she stayed living in to discover more about his assets. However, this practice has now effectively been outlawed by a Court of Appeal decision last year.
There are two points I want to highlight on this. One, it is good that our industry makes it possible for people to challenge the legal system if they believe they have been unfairly treated – and that they will get a fair hearing. Marco-Pierre White may have greater means than most to mount a challenge but it sends the message that over-zealous solicitors are not a law unto themselves and that right will out. Rules can be changed.
Two, I think it sends a message to family lawyers about the type of advice we should give and how we should behave. Divorce is difficult, divorce is not nice for anyone involved, divorce is something to be avoided if possible. However, advising clients to employ underhand means to get one over on their estranged spouse – particularly in cases like this where the settlement is likely to have been substantial without digging around to see if anything is hidden – can only add to the adversity and difficulty of a separation.
The public apology is humiliating for the solicitors involved – but advocating practices of this kind is embarrassing for the whole profession. Hopefully this episode will see an end to it.