Senior Judge calls for lawmakers to reform cost of divorce finances
The time for just saying “something must be done” about high costs in ancillary relief cases has gone. It is time to “actually do something,” according to a senior judge.
Sir Nicholas Mostyn said the 2010 Jackson reforms to cut the cost of civil litigation had not gone far enough and added: “In my judgment the time has come when the law-makers in this country, whether they are legislators or judges, must stop saying something must be done and actually do something.”
He called for fixed pricing for ancillary relief cases. He said: “Hourly billing at best leads to inefficient practices, at worst it rewards and incentivises inefficiency. Moreover, it undermines effective competition in the provision of legal services, as it penalises . . . well run legal business whose systems and processes enable it to conclude matters rapidly.”
Mr Justice Mostyn made his comments when delivering judgment in the Final Hearing in J v J  EWHC 3654, a lengthy ancillary relief battle. He pointed out that between them the husband and wife had spent £920,000 in legal fees, equivalent to 32 per cent of the family assets.
Ancillary Relief is the formal name for financial proceedings relating to divorce or civil partnership dissolution.
Last month even larger fees were in the headlines with the conclusion of a 5 year court battle between a hedge fund manager and his wife.
A total of £19 million was spent by Martin Coward and his wife Elena Ambrosiadou by the time their ancillary relief case was completed last month. Their fees were increased because of a commercial battle over who should benefit from a company they had set up together.
Speaking about J v J, Mr Justice Mostyn called for greater use of single joint experts instead of multiple rival expert witnesses. He also said hourly charging “penalises the able, those with greater professional knowledge and skill, as they will tend to work at a more efficient rate. In other words, hourly billing fails to reward the diligent, the efficient and the able: its focus on the cost of time, a truly moveable feast, simply does not reflect the value of work.”