An essential principle in court proceedings is finality. The court’s decision should be final: litigation must come to an end. Only in limited circumstances should that principle not apply.
Whether such a circumstance had occurred came up for consideration in the recent High Court case AR v ML, which concerned a husband’s appeal against an order allowing the wife to introduce further evidence relating to her housing needs after a financial remedies judgment had been delivered, but not perfected.
Before I go into the case I should just explain one thing for the benefit of non-lawyer readers. When a judge makes their decision they will obviously deliver their (oral) judgment. But that is not quite the end of the matter. The judgment has to be ‘perfected’ into a court order. Only when the order has been written out and endorsed with the court stamp is the matter concluded. Now, normally this is of academic interest, as the order will simply reflect the contents of the judgment, but that is not always so.
The relevant facts in AR v ML were as follows. The parties were married in 2011. They had no children between them, but the wife’s child by a previous relationship was treated as a child of the family. The marriage broke down in 2016 when the parties separated. Divorce proceedings ensued, and the wife issued a financial remedies application.
The parties both work and earn enough to support themselves. At the time of the final hearing in February this year, the net assets were £908,000. In addition, the wife had a pension worth £66,000, giving an overall total of £974,000. The husband proposed that the wife should receive a total of £444,000 or 46% of those assets. Mr Justice Mostyn, hearing the appeal, described the wife’s proposal thus:
“The wife’s proposal, which was firmly based on her asserted need for housing, was that she should receive £600,000 from which she would pay her debts of £63,000, giving her net assets of £537,000. This sum, she asserted, was what was necessary to rehouse her and the child reasonably, she maintaining that she needed £525,000 for this purpose. In addition, she would retain her pension of £66,000, giving her overall funds of £603,000 or 66% of the assets. Her claim was certainly ambitious.”
The judge found that the wife could be rehoused with a housing fund of £410,000. Accordingly, she awarded the wife £475,000, so that after she discharged her debts she would be left with approximately £412,000, plus her pension. Her total funds would, therefore, amount to £478,000, or 49% of the total assets.
Unhappy with this outcome, the wife applied for permission to introduce further evidence relating to her housing needs (obviously in order to show that she needed more than £412,000), for an adjournment of the final hearing to a future date, and for the judgment not to be perfected into a final order. The judge acceded to the application, and the husband appealed, to the High Court.
Mr Justice Mostyn was not impressed with the events following the delivery of the judgment. The wife had been given every opportunity prior to the final hearing to produce evidence of her housing needs, and the judge had not accepted that she needed as much as she claimed. There was no good reason shown why the judge should depart from the terms of her judgment. It was merely, he said, “another example of counsel on behalf of a disappointed litigant seeking spuriously to try to get the judge to change her mind immediately after judgment has been delivered, to which the judge should not have succumbed.”
Accordingly, the appeal was allowed, and it was directed that the judge should make an order that incorporated and reflected the terms of her original judgment.