It is obviously trite to say that feelings can run very high in the course of family litigation. Such feelings are rarely conducive to a favourable outcome, so lawyers and judges do what they can to reduce them. It would not, however, be realistic to expect strong feelings to be eliminated entirely. The trick is to ensure that they are reduced sufficiently so as not to cause serious damage to that party’s case.
Sometimes, however, a party is so caught up in their feelings of ill-will towards the other party that they are not able to keep them away from the courtroom. And, as we will see in a moment, the ill-will can even spread to the other party’s lawyers, and even to the court itself, particularly if they believe that the case is not proceeding in a way that is favourable to them. The feelings can manifest themselves in many ways, but a common way is contempt for all others involved in the litigation, including the court. Needless to say, this is not likely to go well for the aggrieved party.
The recent case Quan v Bray is a remarkable example of this phenomenon, in which the husband was found by Mr Justice Mostyn to have a “contemptuous and arrogant approach” to the proceedings. In fact, the case caused much comment amongst family lawyers on Twitter, and none of it favourable towards the husband.
I have, in fact, written here previously about Quan v Bray, in this post. The case concerned a wife’s financial remedies claim, and the recent judgment related to the final hearing of that claim, before Mr Justice Mostyn in the High Court. The wife was represented by lawyers at the hearing, and the husband represented himself.
The case has a complex history (it began in 2012), and there is neither room here nor the need for me to go into its details. Essentially the wife at the hearing was only seeking maintenance, with her capital claims (e.g. for a lump sum payment) being adjourned because the husband did not presently have the capital to meet those claims, but might do so in the future. The husband claimed that he did not have the income to pay maintenance, and that he would not receive sufficient capital in future to make any capital payment to the wife.
Accordingly, the two matters for Mr Justice Mostyn to decide were: should the husband be required to pay maintenance to the wife, and if so how much, and should the wife’s capital claims be adjourned, or dismissed?
I now turn to the husband’s approach to the proceedings. Prior to the hearing, he had already blatantly defied court orders, both to disclosure documentation (which Mr Justice Mostyn believed would be significantly to the husband’s disadvantage, if revealed), and to pay maintenance pending suit to the wife, despite Mr Justice Mostyn finding that he had the means to pay.
But it gets worse. When dealing with his income in his principal witness statement, the husband had sarcastically suggested that he “might be able to earn some money as a drug dealer”, a suggestion that Mr Justice Mostyn described as “not only childish and facetious”, but also “directly and grossly disrespectful to the authority of the court.”
And the husband did not stop there. In the next paragraph of his statement he suggested that a further possibility for him to earn an income was by pursuing a career “extorting money” as a legal executive with the wife’s solicitors, although saying that he “would prefer drug dealing because it is considerably more ethical.” This, said Mr Justice Mostyn, went “beyond childishness and facetiousness.” It was “grossly insulting”, and reflected the husband’s detestation of the wife’s advisers. It was completely unacceptable that he should use a witness statement written for the court as a platform to vent his spleen in this manner.
In the light of the above, it is no surprise that Mr Justice Mostyn found the husband to be a thoroughly unsatisfactory witness, concluding that he had “been dishonest, manipulative, arrogant, menacing and contemptuous of the court’s authority.” In the circumstances he did not accept any of the husband’s evidence, unless it was either agreed or corroborated by clear contemporaneous documents. By contrast, he found the wife to be a credible witness.
He awarded the wife maintenance of £64,000 per annum, and adjourned the wife’s capital claims, concluding that it was “foreseeable that at some stage in the future the husband will have accumulated sufficient sums to make a proper clean-break capital settlement on the wife.”
Following the judgment the husband applied to Mr Justice Mostyn for permission to appeal. However, Mr Justice Mostyn was not satisfied that any of the grounds for appeal put forward by the husband had any prospect of success, and he therefore refused the application.
All in all, a clear illustration of the folly of taking your ill-feelings with you to court, and another lesson in the perils of self-representation (many was the time that I had to advise a client against letting their ill-feelings creep into their evidence). Of course, to the non-lawyer looking in, some of the husband’s behaviour in this case may seem just silly, or even amusing, on a juvenile level. But rest assured, it will not be viewed that way by the court.
You can read Mr Justice Mostyn’s full judgment here.