A Sorry Tale

Many thanks to Family Law Week for the judgment in the remarkable case of Hall v Hall [2008] EWCA Civ 350, which I had not come across previously. In this case the husband instigated divorce and ancillary relief proceedings but the wife refused to cooperate, even denying that she had been personally served with the papers. When the ancillary relief application went before him on the 6th April 2006 and the wife did not appear, the district judge, clearly frustrated by the wife's (in)action, made an order transferring all known assets to the husband, in an attempt to shock the wife into cooperating, despite the fact that the husband only sought an equal division of assets. Incredibly, the wife still did nothing, and the order was implemented. Finally, in November 2006, the wife applied to have the order set aside, but her application was refused, not just by another district judge but also, on appeal, by a circuit judge, although neither judge had a full note of the case. She then applied to appeal a second time. Needless to say, her application was allowed by the Court of Appeal, where Lord Justice Thorpe found the proceedings to be "deeply flawed", and said:

"Of course a judge is fully justified in taking tough measures to convey to an avoidant litigant that she must engage in the proceedings and put her case if she is not to risk an unfair outcome. But tough measures stop at an unless order, framed to give the applicant all that he or she seeks."

Lord Justice Wall called this "a sorry tale", and I agree.