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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

28 OCT 2009

Marco Pierre White can sue Withers, Court of Appeal rules

The Court of Appeal has ruled that TV chef Marco Pierre White can sue the law firm Withers LLP for breach of privacy in his divorce case.

Last year, Mr Justice Eady struck out Mr White's case against the law firm and partner Marcus Dearle, who have acted for his estranged wife Mati.

Mr White alleges Mr Dearle instructed the chef's ex-wife to steal 42 documents for use in the proceedings to resolve the financial issues between them. Consequently he is seeking damages for misuse of confidential or private information and wrongful interference with property.

The appeal judges Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Sedley and Lord Justice Wilson said the case should proceed to full trial.

"It's not conducive to the administration of justice that such claims are simply swept under the carpet," their judgment stated.

In a statement, Withers LLP said that a full trail could be of benefit to family practitioners to clarify rules on the disclosure of documents.

"It will be helpful to family law practitioners and their clients to have the whole issue of disclosure of documents in divorce proceedings considered more fully. The Hildebrand rules are not comprehensive and have not been reviewed by the Courts for over 15 years.

"Now that cases are often determined by reference to a percentage of wealth, there may be an incentive to conceal that wealth, and the courts need to review what can (and cannot) be done by, and on behalf of, the financially weaker party to protect her/his position", Withers said yesterday.

Lord Justice Ward said that the documents taken by Mrs White included a letter from Mr White's daughter by an earlier marriage.

This was "a touching, almost heartbreaking, letter to her father expressing her love for him and her wish to see much more of him.

"It was a letter which desperately called for a speedy reply. It is alleged that this letter was not only intercepted but it was also withheld, thus denying Mr White the opportunity to respond to his daughter's cry for help.

"Mr Dearle, an experienced family lawyer, may be open to criticism for withholding it."

The judge also commented: "It must always be remembered that solicitors are officers of the court and if they are shown to have done wrong they should face the judgment of the court".

The couple, who married in 2000, split in January 2007 and have three children.

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