Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White’s recent appearance in the Court of Appeal led to a decision that should serve as a reminder that in divorce proceedings it is important to follow the rules relating to the use of documents belonging to the other party.
Mr White married in 2000 and he and his ex-wife have three children. After a prior separation, they separated finally in 2007 and Mrs White filed for divorce that year.
Mrs White claimed that her husband had threatened to hide or dissipate assets and so she began removing documents and seeking evidence regarding the true state of his finances. This included intercepting his post: one of the letters intercepted was from Mr White’s daughter from his first marriage and another was a contract from P&O.
Mr White claimed that his ex-wife had taken the documents under instruction from her solicitor (a claim she and he both denied) and claimed damages for breach of confidence, misuse of private material and wrongful interference with his property. Although he was unsuccessful in court, Mr White appealed to the Court of Appeal on the point of wrongful interference with property.
The copying of documents (including taking them and returning them immediately after copying) is in general permissible in such circumstances, but the use of any force or deception to obtain documents is not. Because the parties to divorce proceedings are required to make full and frank disclosure of their finances, copies of relevant documents can be admitted in evidence.
The Court was not persuaded that Mr White’s claim should be struck out and found that he had an arguable case for wrongful interference. The issues will therefore have to be argued out in court once again.