Thursday, December 11, 2008

KSO v MJO & Ors: Litigation conducted at ruinous expense

If you're a lawyer and you've not read Bleak House, then your legal education is incomplete. Not for the first time it has been quoted in a judgment, on this occasion by the ubiquitous Mr Justice Munby, who was saddened and appalled by what he called "ancillary relief litigation conducted at ruinous expense to the parties". The case was KSO v MJO & Ors [2008] EWHC 3031 (Fam). I'm not going to go into the gory details of the litigation, but suffice to say it involved not just the husband and the wife but also the father-in-law and the mother-in-law, who between them made numerous applications, cross applications and even an appeal - at one earlier hearing the District Judge had been "overwhelmed with applications and issues". As a result of all of this litigation, Mr Justice Munby calculated that the matrimonial 'pot' had been reduced to "a wretched 28.22%" by the costs incurred.

As Mr Justice Munby said, the end result was unsurprising: "The litigation simply collapsed under the unsustainable burden of paying costs which had long since become wholly disproportionate to anything at stake and which, by the time the parties arrived at the FDR, had swallowed up a grotesquely large proportion of the never very substantial assets. On 26 November 2008 I received the news that the husband had earlier that day been declared bankrupt on his own petition."

Before quoting from Bleak House in an appendix to the judgment, Mr Justice Munby gave the following depressing summary:

"The picture is deeply dispiriting. And it is not as if it is only the adults who suffer from the consequences of such folly. The luckless children do as well. The present case is a sobering, and for me deeply saddening, example. If, instead of spending – squandering – over £430,000 in costs, the wife and the husband had been able to resolve their differences at a more modest and, dare I say it, more seemly level of costs, there might very well have been enough left in the matrimonial 'pot' to house the wife and children and to enable the children to remain at their school, whilst still leaving something more than a mere consolation prize over for the husband. As it is, it is hard to see much being left from the wreck, not least after the trustee in bankruptcy has had his costs, expenses and remuneration. It is difficult not to be reminded at this point of Jarndyce v Jarndyce (see the Appendix). And the wife and the husband – and for this purpose I refer to them as the mother and the father, for that is what they are – are faced now with the wretched and thankless task of trying to explain to their daughters how it has all come to this."

8 comments:

  1. You've got to hand it to Mr Justice Mumby - ALWAYS a ROLLICKING Good Read.....zzzzzz........ ( wasn't he told off by the Court of Appeal for bieng a bit, well, BORING?)

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  2. Now, I'll have nothing said against Mr Justice Munby!

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  3. Surely the point of Bleak House is that Dickens wishes to criticise the law and the crushing slowness of the legal system (which doesn't appear to have changed) whereas Munby, as ever, wishes to criticise the litigants. Not a very apt comparison.

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  4. Good point Nick, although I still think the quotation was apt.

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  5. Sirs,

    When I first dreamed of becoming a solicitor in 1975, there were, I believe, 30,000 of you in the UK. Now, I think that there are 130,000and I do not believe for one moment that the British population has increased similarly.

    What do you all do for this country, apropos the recent failure of the bankers, what have you 130,000 solicitors done by having incessantly mushroomed your numbers?

    Are you a force for good, or very deeply sympomatic of national decline? I fear it is a Bleak House we live in.

    Chris Mills.

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  6. You can't have too many lawyers! ;-)

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  7. Mr. Bolch,

    Can we have too many non sequiturs?

    Chris Mills.

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  8. :-)

    Don't take my frivolous last comment as an indication that I'll defend the profession to the bitter end, because I won't. Lawyers clearly are sometimes the cause of "ruinous litigation", and some provide little or no benefit to society. On the other hand, others provide great benefit, especially to protect the more vulnerable. Whether we are, overall, a force for good, is a matter of opinion.

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