Re Yorston & Others: Production-line particulars

Image: Public Domain, via Piqsels

Just a very quick note about a rather remarkable case, albeit one that will soon have no precedential merit.

The marriage of Celine-Shelby & Yorston concerned no fewer than 28 divorce petitions, all of which contained identical particulars of 'unreasonable behaviour', viz:

"For about a year prior to the separation the respondent would become moody without justification and argumentative towards the petitioner. He/she would behave in this way on at least a couple of days every week, which would cause a lot of tension within the home thereby making the petitioner's life very uncomfortable. During the same period the respondent would also often ignore the petitioner and decline to communicate with him. He/she would also behave in this way on about two days every week, which would also cause a lot of tension within the home and make the petitioner's life very difficult. The respondent showed no interest in leading the life of a married woman/man for about a year before the separation. For example, he/she would go out socially on his/her own and basically exclude the petitioner from his/her life thereby making him/her feel very dejected."

Unsurprisingly, this remarkable 'coincidence' attracted the attention of the eagle-eyed staff at the Divorce Unit at Bury St. Edmunds. The matter was then passed on, ultimately reaching the desk of Mr Justice Moor in the High Court.

It turns out that the petitions were all prepared by a firm who I will not embarrass further by naming, but who it may not be surprising to know describe themselves as 'Cheap Divorce Law Solicitors'. The Director of said firm admitted that they used this standard wording, but asked clients if there was anything in the wording that was wrong. Incredibly, all 28 clients were happy that the wording accurately explained the behaviour of their spouse.

The Director, seeing the error of his firm's ways, apologised to Mr Justice Moor 'profusely', but this cut little mustard with the learned judge, who said (no laughing at the back please):

"As all these particulars are absolutely identical and cannot, therefore, all be true in each of the twenty eight cases. If I needed to give an example, it would be to say that it would incredible if all twenty eight respondents ignored the twenty eight petitioners and declined to communicate with them on about two days per week. It follows that I have no alternative but to dismiss all twenty-eight of these divorce petitions. The petitioners will simply have to start again. I hope it will be possible for them to proceed relatively quickly."

And that might not have been the end of it for the unfortunate Director, as Moor J went on to explain that he was considering a reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions, on the basis that this could potentially amount to the crime of perverting the course of justice. However, the Director apologised to him in court, saying that it was a misunderstanding and that he thought it was acceptable if he told the petitioners to correct anything that was wrong in the petition. He also confirmed that it would never happen again.

As a result, Moor J came to the conclusion that there would be insufficient public benefit in referring these cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions. No doubt the fact that we will soon thankfully be blessed with a no-fault system of divorce was also a factor.