Appeal court overturns Hildebrand rule in Tchenguiz divorce case

The Court of Appeal has ruled that separating couples will no longer be allowed to secretly obtain and use documents belonging to their partner in divorce proceedings.

Business tycoons Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz appealed an earlier High Court decision by Mr Justice Eady that said they must hand back documents copied on behalf of their sister Elizabeth Tchenguiz Imerman for use in her divorce from Vivian Imerman.

The Tchenguiz brothers, who were represented by 5RB’s Desmond Browne QC and Blackstone Chambers’ Stephen Nathan QC, had downloaded information from a computer being used by Imerman in an office they all shared because they believed the businessman was trying to hide his assets ahead of his divorce.

In ruling that the documents could not be used in the divorce the Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justices Moses and Munby, effectively overturned the so called Hildebrand rule. The rule, which spun out of the Hildebrand v Hildebrand case, allowed a spouse to secretly obtain and use documents revealing their partner’s financial situation in divorce proceedings.

The judgment stated: “It follows that nothing in the so-called Hildebrand rules can be relied upon in justification of, or as providing a defence to, conduct which would otherwise be criminal or actionable (whether as a tort or in equity) nor as providing any reason why the relief (whether at law or in equity) which would otherwise be available should not be granted.

“More particularly it follows that neither the wives who purloin their husband’s confidential documents nor the professional advisers who receive them (or copies of them) can plead the so-called Hildebrand rules in answer to a claim for relief […]”

Browne and Nathan were instructed by Zaiwalla & Co senior partner Sarosh Zaiwalla for the Tchenguiz brothers.

Imerman was represented by Matrix Chambers’ Antony White QC, who was instructed by Berwin Leighton Paisner associate director Gavin Llewellyn.