About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Behind Closed Doors? Documents & other information to be used in court

Uncharacteristically, I thought I would kick of my blogposts for 2010 (the start of a new decade called ....? answers on a postcard please) with a little piece about ancillary relief though some of the points it raises may be just as applicable to children cases.

Marco Pierre White is renewing his legal action against Withers, the firm of solicitors who represented his ex-wife in their divorce proceedings, seeking damages for interference with goods etc. His basic beef (delicious I am sure) is that private documents were obtained from him unlawfully. The case is covered in the Times .

The Court of Appeal decision making this renewed action possible is reported in full on Family Law Week (the case was dismissed at first instance).

As John Bolch points out in the deliciously revamped Family Lore the case is good news for his lawyers as it falls into the "it's the principle of the thing" category (aka the blank cheque client) with MPW declaring that he will not settle at any cost.

The award-winning Marilyn Stowe (well she won the Family Lore award for best post of the month in December for the 2nd month in a row for this piece on White v White ) is quoted in the Times and has written extensively on the subject of disclosure and MPW gives a helpful checklist for those who wish to keep their secrets secret .

I must say that I am 100% with her on her motto for life - WWGJD? What would Grace Jones Do?

Marilyn Stowe has also given some helpful advice for practitioners here and analyses the Court of Appeal judgment here .

One of my very earliest cases involved an application to the court to obtain documents from a bank which gave rise to the discovery of the sum of £185,000 in a secret bank account. I considered myself hugely well-paid for it at £185! You do the maths. I make the point because there are already a number of weapons in the arsenal of those on the hunt for information and in this internet age clues, especially re the rich and famous, are often littered about. Facebook, twitter etc also give clues and even if postings do not in themselves absolutely prove a suspicion, they can provide the foundation for applications for orders which the courts already have powers to make. It is becoming increasingly common in children cases, where the allegations of abuse are at the more serious end, for applications to be made to telephone service providers to disclose mobile phone records showing calls AND texts made, sometimes with the text of the texts which are now routinely kept for 1 year.

Often, too, parties are in possession of documents to which they had free and ready access before the acrimonious split and it is difficult to see that there is anything wrong in them relying on such information. I had a contact case where a party had a copy of a psychologist's report prepared in connection with a personal injury case which she had been shown by her ex and indeed he had left on the computer which had been part of the family network. Immediately I became aware that the client had it, having closely questioned the client on how she had got hold of it, I read it and then told the other side. Whilst I could not say that it would not be used, if it became relevant in the contact dispute, I was able to offer undertakings from the client limiting its use and regulating its storage so that it would not leak beyond the case and would not be filed unless it became relevant to the issues in the contact dispute.

From across the pond Sam Hasler of Indiana, borrows advice from the Minnesota Divorce & Family Law Blog, recommending a pre-separation information collection in his post on being prepared for a divorce. As to how such information would be viewed here would no doubt rather depend on how much of the information was readily shared pre-separation.

I would be interested to know from practitioners of situations where they have encountered a difficulty as a result of documents coming into their possession by doubtful means or by not being able to access information which might have helped their clients? I wonder how real a difficulty this is in the average case?

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