The recently published judgement of Sir Peter Singer in the case of Joy v Joy-Morancho raises a number of alarming questions for family law practitioners and their clients. The case itself is extreme, the husband claimed he had nothing, not a jot - the wife by contrast claimed she was entitled to a lump sum of £27m. The collection of assets including eye-watering classic cars and an international property portfolio utilised by the parties during their marriage was thoroughly shrouded in a cloak of overseas trusts and companies. Despite Sir Peter Singer clearly finding that the husband had been dishonest to the extreme, his hands were firmly tied and unable to find that the husband 'owned' any of the assets, he could only make an order for maintenance in the wife's favour leaving her capital claims in abeyance.
In punishment for his trickery and dishonesty, the husband was ordered to pay a sum of £344,000 towards the wife's costs - but is this punishment enough? Should judges exert tougher sanctions where a party has clearly lied to the court? Will this decision only seek to encourage others to conceal their wealth in complex trust structures, and provide misrepresentations to the court? And finally, is this case (where the parties have spent an estimated £2m between them on proceedings in the UK) yet another example of where the reintroduction of Calderbank offers would assist to achieve a settlement at an earlier date?
the husband’s conduct in trying to explain his financial circumstances amounted to ‘blatant dishonesty’ and that he had deliberately set about obscuring the true situation as to his past, present and future. One lie about the evidence of a witness was described as ‘breathtaking’. Singer said it would be ‘grossly unfair’ to the wife not to regard the husband’s conduct as the ‘prime touchstone’ in the case, and he characterised the husband’s case as a ‘rotten edifice founded on concealment and misrepresentation and therefore a sham, a charade, bogus, spurious and contrived’. ‘Such conduct unravels all and can and should in an extreme case where the conclusions are clear have clear costs condemnation meted out as the court’s response,’ said Singer.