There is nothing the public likes more than salacious revelations about the rich and famous, and Marco Pierre White’s messy divorce ticks all the boxes. But from a legal perspective, it has added spice.
For those of you who get your nightly television fix from celebrity chef programmes, you will know that Marco is one such chef, cutting and chopping and sprinkling and seasoning at a frenetic pace, and all for our edification. For my part, I’d rather dine with them than match them pot for pot.
It all revolves around the right of Mrs. “Mati Hari” White to intercept letters and documents belonging to Marco, with the ostensible aim of proving that he is being economical with the truth in declaring his assets, a large portion of which has been earmarked by her as part of the divorce settlement. It also revolves around the part played by her legal advisers in condoning such behaviour.
Act One of this unsavoury saga began in the High Court in 2008, when Marco lost his privacy action against her lawyers following the interception of his private documents. The action was heard by Mr. Justice Eady, who, along with Mr. Justice Collins, is criticised for making the law “on the hoof.” Mr. Justice Eady, you will remember, ruled in favour of Max “Spanker” Mosley and his right to a sadomasochistic private life. Sich Heil!
Anyway, back to the plot. Eady J could find nothing objectionable in Mati Hari’s conduct, and told Marco to get stuffed. But in the way of things, when money is no object, Act Two unfolded in the Court of Appeal, when their lordships ruled in his favour and told Eady J to get stuffed, in the nicest possible way, of course. At the same time, they gave Mati Hari’s solicitor a verbal tongue lashing and questioned his professional judgment.
Washing around this pot pourri is the landmark case of Hildebrand –v- Hildebrand in 1992, now referred to as the Hildebrand Rules, which condoned the practice of spouses intercepting and copying documents in divorce proceedings BUT with the caveat that such documents must always be returned as soon as possible. A very messy business, but in the great scheme of things, especially in high value divorces, sometimes necessary, albeit unsavoury.
Where Mati Hari’s solicitor went horribly wrong was withholding an intercepted letter from Marco’s daughter, deeply personal in nature and which had absolutely nothing to do with the divorce proceedings. He and his firm now face a possible action for invasion of privacy, substantial damages and even a possible criminal charge.
By all accounts, divorce lawyers are having a major fit of the vapours, but as the saying goes, they’ve brought it on themselves. The Rules are quite clear. Everything must be above board and beyond reproach. If documents are relevant to the issues in the proceedings, by all means produce them, but never withhold them.
Sadly, when love flies out the window, so does reason, and human nature being what it is, there will always be abuses of the Rules. But divorce lawyers have nothing to fear if they give their clients proper and competent advice. That’s their job, and if they fall down on it, they have only themselves to blame.
My advice to lawyers is always the same – don’t get emotionally involved. Leave that to the client.