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Williams J refuses application for solicitor to be barred from divorce proceedings

Husband had claimed that he was privy to confidential, privileged information

Mr Justice Williams has refused, in divorce proceedings, an application by a husband for an order that his wife's solicitor be debarred from acting for her in the proceedings on the basis that he was privy to confidential information.

In S v S (Application to Prevent Solicitor Acting) [2017] EWHC 2660 (Fam) the wife had petitioned for divorce in September 2016. Through a representative, the husband had made initial enquiries with six solicitors with a view to choosing a solicitor to conduct litigation, one of whom was Ray Tooth of Sears Tooth solicitors. When it became clear in February 2017 that the wife had instructed Sears Tooth, the husband raised the objection that Mr Tooth was privy to confidential, privileged information and was therefore in conflict when it came to acting for the wife.

The husband sought that Mr Tooth and Sears Tooth solicitors be barred from acting for the wife in these or any related proceedings and that they should remove themselves from the record. The husband also sought costs of the application on an indemnity basis.

After reviewing the law, Williams J determined that a 'meeting of sorts' had taken place between the husband's representative and Mr Tooth. It had not been disclosed that the husband had already signed a retainer letter with another firm a week before that meeting. On the balance of probabilities, it was not found that confidential material was imparted to Mr Tooth or that any privileged information or advice arose. The circumstances suggested a brief meeting and general discussion, not detailed disclosure of confidential information. The judge found that there was an element of 'ejecting solicitors out of the pool of lawyers who the wife might consult' and a 'clear impression of strategising and manoeuvring'.

The application for an injunction was dismissed.

For the judgment, prefaced by a detailed summary, setting out the judge's reasoning, by Lyndsey Sambrooks-Wright of 2 Dr Johnson's Buildings (from which this brief item is derived), click here.