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Court of Appeal rules against disclosure in divorce case

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Secretary of State for the Home Office have succeeded in an appeal against an order that they disclose documents relating to the international criminal activities of a former solicitor.

In a brand new judgement, the Court of Appeal ruled in their favour, finding that the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 “clearly prohibits the subsequent use of documents and other articles obtained as a result of…letters of request [requests for information sent to authorities abroad], even where they have been adduced [quoted] in evidence in open court.”

The case concerned Varsha Bhadresh Gohil, the ex-wife of a former solicitor who was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud in 2010 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Mrs Gohil wanted to have the financial settlement agreed during her divorce proceedings set aside. This settlement, agreed in 2004, granted her a lump sum of £270,000 but she believed her former husband had hidden some of his assets.

Mrs Gohil sought access to documents relating to the prosecution of her husband and earlier this year Mr Justice Moylan ruled in her favour. But the CPS and the Home Secretary appealed, on the grounds that the documents contained confidential information received from foreign governments under mutual legal assistance, a multinational information-sharing agreement.

Sitting with Lady Justice Hallett and Lord Justice McFarlane, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson ruled today that the 2003 Act meant that Mrs Gohil could not use the confidential documents as evidence in support of her application to have her divorce settlement set aside. However, she will be able to use information in those documents to make further investigations.

To quote the judgement:

“…Mrs Gohil cannot adduce the documents. But although she cannot adduce the documents, she can use the information contained in them as a springboard for conducting her own enquiries, with a view to obtaining other evidence on which she can rely without contravening …the 2003 [Crime International Co-operation] Act.”

As the judgement notes, there are potential problems with this process:

“If there are difficulties in deciding whether she is in substance adducing the documents, then the judge conducting the hearing will have to decide whether she has crossed into forbidden territory.”

James Turner QC appeared on behalf of Mrs Gohil’s former husband Bhadresh Babulal Gohil, in support of the appeals brought by the CPS and the Home Secretary.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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