E v L: A cautionary tale on costs

Image: Public Domain, via Piqsels

A very short note in relation to a very short judgment (well, at least the costs judgment is short; the principal judgment is rather longer).

E v L concerned a wife's application for financial remedies. For the sake of this post I can give the briefest details. The parties met in 2015, were married in 2017 and separated in late 2019. There were no children of the marriage. Hearing the application, Mr Justice Mostyn awarded the wife half of the marital assets, amount to a sum just short of £2 million.

So to the costs judgment, which consists of two parts:

Part 1: The husband's intransigent stance

The essential reason why the case failed to settle was the husband's intransigent stance in refusing to accept that the fair disposition would be an equal sharing of the marital acquest. Notwithstanding that a large sum of money was made during the marriage the husband "doggedly clung to the notion that the only fair way of resolving the case would be to confine the wife to her needs, very conservatively assessed".

As a result, nearly £900,000 of costs were incurred.

Further, in order to fortify his position the husband ran a disguised conduct case, insidiously seeking at every turn to rubbish the quality of the marriage. This, said Mostyn J in the principal judgment, "is a practice which is all too common and which must stop."

In the light of these matters Mostyn J ordered the husband to pay a quarter of the wife's costs, in the sum of £109,000.

Part 2: The wife's litigation conduct

The wife, however, did not escape unscathed.

She had admitted to reading and photographing the husband's private, and in some instances privileged, documents on his computer.

Describing this conduct as "completely unacceptable", Mostyn J ordered the wife to pay all of the husband's costs referable to that issue, in the sum of £23,400, "so that the message goes out that if you behave in such a way you are going to suffer a heavy penalty in costs."