Thorpe LJ slates counsel in civil partnership settlement appeal

The Court of Appeal (CoA) has overturned a first instance decision to award an actor £1.7m following the break-up of his civil partnership to a City analyst.

The ruling is believed to be the first reported civil partnership case. The CoA reduced the award to actor Donald Gallagher by £320,000.

JPMorgan Asset Management analyst Peter Lawrence instructed Charles Russell partner Sarah Higgins to challenge the first instance decision that found he was entitled to £1.7m of the couple’s assets, which were valued at £4.175m.

Higgins instructed 29 Bedford Row silk Patrick Chamberlayne QC, who went head to head with 1 Hare Court’s Timothy Bishop QC, who was instructed by Boodle Hatfield for Gallagher.

The court heard the challenge on the basis that the original estimate of the couple’s joint assets had been flawed.

Lawrence commented: “The case was not in fact about the principles of civil partnership, which are the same as on divorce, but about how to divide assets which were largely brought into the relationship by one party.

“The particular issue in this case was how much Mr Gallagher should receive in relation to the increase in value of a property owned by Peter Lawrence which shot up in value simply as a result of London property prices.

“The court decided that there was ’no rationality’ to the original figure order by the judge last June and reduced the total award by about £320,000.”

In their judgment, Lord Justices Moses and Thorpe and Mr Justice Ryder were critical of the representative counsel, stating that both sides had sought to over complicate the disputed matter.

Thorpe LJ stated: “In my judgment the present case was comparatively simple. It was made unnecessarily complicated as the advocates sought to achieve their goals by praying in aid one judicial creation or another.”

Ryder J added that there were risks to be considered when counsel over debate the meaning of fairness.

He said: “There’s a prevalent practice of coining ever more sophisticated phrases which are intended by practitioners to highlight particular aspects of the notion of fairness. 

“That practice has created an expectation that the judge will consider the same in judgment. That expectation is inappropriate not least because the linguistic devices employed are not terms of art: they are no more than tools to assist in the interpretation of fact which should not be elevated to the status of factors that have to be considered alongside the section 25 criteria. 

“Not only does such a misconception risk inappropriate weight being given to an analysis born out of a linguistic device, it carries with it the real danger of miscalculation.”