Lawyers respond to criticism of ‘titanic litigation’

Family Law|January 9th 2015

Lawyers who represented a separating couple in a £1.3 million dispute have responded to criticisms by the case judge.

Mr Justice Holman ruled on Seagrove v Sullivan and decried the “titanic litigation” which led to such a large legal bill. In that case, an unmarried couple who had been together for over 20 years were fighting over a number of properties they had acquired over the course of their relationship. The central focus of the dispute was their last joint home.

Richard Todd QC represented Mr Sullivan in this case. Talking to legal website LexisNexis, he said that the fees covered “fully contested residence/contact hearings” regarding the couple’s children in which the judge was not involved.

The £1.3 million also included VAT. Todd added that the judge was “keen to embrace a figure which would paint the legal profession in the worst possible light”. He insisted that the legal teams “did everything to try and settle the case”.

Christopher Wagstaffe QC, who represented Ms Seagrove, claimed that had the couple not settled, whoever “lost” in the courtroom “might well have had extremely fertile grounds for an appeal”. This was because the judge said he would disregard 90 per cent of the documents submitted if they did not settle. He added that for the successful party, spending even more money to defend the court decision would be “an unattractive prospect”.

As the couple were not married, he added, it meant that the case could not be dealt with in the same way as a divorce would be. He said that the Supreme Court had made it clear that cases like this one must involve “a survey by the court of the entire course of dealings between the parties”. In this case, the relationship lasted 20 years and the dealings included five properties, three children and a number of other assets.

Wagstaffe added that the case was an opportunity for the judge to remark on “some deeply undesirable practical consequences” of litigation between cohabitees, including the cost of such proceedings, but did not do so. Focusing on the “absurd” amount of money spent without addressing why it was necessary given current law was “a rather missed opportunity” in the lawyer’s mind.

To read the original judgment, click here.

Photo by Cas via Flickr

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