A family court judge has described a case where the two parties racked up costs of £5.5m as “one of the most shameless pieces of litigation” he has ever seen.
Calling the situation a “catastrophe” and “completely absurd”, Mr Justice Francis was deeply critical of the husband who, despite being hugely wealthy, had decided to dispense with his expensive lawyers shortly before trial.
Instead, he represented himself in what the judge said was a “relatively straightforward” application for financial provision for his child pursuant to schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.
“I have no doubt… that the father is a man of considerable intellectual capacity, of business acumen and financial success,” the judge said.
“But when it comes to understanding the issues in these proceedings, he has, in my judgment, shown an almost complete absence of emotional intelligence or understanding in relation to the issues that are before the court and the issues that affect his child and his former partner.”
The ruling in this “bitter and acrimonious litigation” was handed down last July but only published last week.
The father’s estimated costs were £3.8m and the mother’s £1.7m. At the time, the child had been alive for about 93 months. “This means that the parties have, between them, spent approximately £61,000 on legal fees arguing over the child for each month of his life,” the judge observed.
The judge said he had given “considerable thought” to adjourning the case so that the father could be represented.
He decided against it because “this case desperately needs resolution” and also at the pre-trial review he gave the father “the clearest of indications… that I thought that he should be represented and I reminded him of that this week…
“It was his choice to dispense with the services of Stewarts Law and Lucy Stone KC and instead to act for himself.”
Francis J expressed astonishment that the father had not read schedule 1 of the Children Act – “I asked the father whether he would go to a commercial negotiation without reading the papers relevant to that negotiation and, of course, he said that he would not” – and at his approach to negotiating a settlement.
Some time ago, the father offered annual payments of £115,000 to the mother for herself and the child. This was a “thoroughly sensible offer” and it turned out only £10,000 less than the judge awarded at the end of the case.
But by the time the hearing began, his offer was £12,000, which he increased to £60,000 during the trial.
“Small wonder, I conclude, that this case has not settled,” Francis J said. “I pointed out to the father that he would not even negotiate the purchase of a second-hand car with such absurd tactics.”
Despite his wealth – in just the last two decades he had earned $82m – “he was willing and able to demean himself and the mother with the derisory offer to which I have referred”.
Francis J went on: “It is, I am afraid to say, in my judgment, one of the most shameless pieces of litigation that I have experienced in nearly six years as a full-time judge of this division, in some 12 years as a deputy judge before that and I sincerely hope that the child does not grow up to learn how much expensive argument there has been about him during the first eight years of his life; he would be appalled.”