White v White

English Family Law

White v White
Image: ‘Land Girls Farming’ by Georgia Fowler

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When a committed marriage runs its course, and the two parties responsible have amassed an estate of significant worth, should the ‘Duxbury paradox’ find just approval, or will the virtue of equality prevail?

After spending over three decades together as husband and wife, business partners and parents, the cross-appellants discussed not only invested exorbitant amounts of money into what was termed a ‘clean break’ divorce, but wound up fighting over percentages, whilst losing sight of the objective first presented to the courts.

Having contributed roughly equal amounts of time and capital into a successful farming business, it was felt by the wife that she needed to end the marriage, and strike out alone in a similar field. While on paper the division of assets appeared straightforward, there were anomalies in the form of individual benefit to inheritance by the husband through valuable farming estate and his decision to continue operating the business shared by the two parties, as opposed to liquidation in the wake of annulment.

During the original hearing, the judgment passed disproportionately in favour of the husband, leaving the wife with less than one-fifth of the estate value. This was calculated  through the application of the Duxbury fund principle, as first described in Duxbury v Duxbury. This antiquated approach to approximation of required financial assets is based upon the idea that in order to establish the requisite level of income for the wife in a divorce, the phrase ‘the longer the marriage and hence older the wife, the less the capital sum required for a Duxbury Fund’ will suffice.

Following an unsurprisingly swift challenge, the Court of Appeal sensibly reconsidered the previous judgment, and increased her award to two-fifths of the estate, upon grounds of equality and the principle that the increase in award had now provided sufficient funds (£1.5m) for the wife to not only start her new venture, but have enough to live on without the burden of stress or discomfort. Similarly, the remaining estate was healthy enough for the husband to continue working, albeit with short-term financial help from his extended family.

While taken on it’s weighting, the outcome would appear at risk of bias, however the ethos that divorcing parties should take steps to help each other start afresh, is clearly present where the dissolution of the joint enterprise would have placed the husband at risk of suffering, while the wife enjoyed the benefit of excessive capital for the purposes of need, despite making the choice to depart from a thriving and well-established business.

Birth of the Human Rights Act 1998

Insight | February 2017

Birth of the Human Rights Act 1998
Image: ‘Against Forgetting’ by Marcia Bushnell

The Human Rights Act was brought into being as a consequence of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was first formulated by the Council of Europe in 1950.

Founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as used by the United Nations), ten countries first rallied for its formation, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Convention took effect in September 1953, with the primary directive of protecting specific fundamental rights among Member States of the Council of Europe, while the core values of the UK constitution enjoyed presumptions of liberty, representative government and the rule of law.

Before the ECHR became intrinsic to domestic law, Ministers often found themselves abusing discretionary powers, which amounted to a constitution largely beyond reproach, relying instead upon collective political norms for enforcement. This protracted period of neglect gave rise to an increase in administrative jurisdiction, and during the 1980s the courts began to adopt a more concrete conception of the rule of law, preferring instead to propagate such values as ‘freedom of expression’ ‘equality’ and ‘freedom from destitution’. However, presumptions followed that common law infringement upon these values would deem statute intervention unlawful, and it soon became conventional thinking; particularly in the well known R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Brind, where the domestic courts held that as the ECHR was not part of English law, the government was able to restrict media coverage of Irish extremist groups, despite clear encroachment upon the right to freedom of expression, and a sadly failed appeal by the journalists fiercely defending that right.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that the British constitution accepted that using convention as a means of entrusting civil liberties could no longer be tolerated, and so on 9 November 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 was enacted by Royal assent. From 2 October 2000 onward, all rights and freedoms previously safeguard by the ECHR were now directly enforceable though UK common law, and the sovereignty of Parliament was agreed.

This upheaval in institutional law was particularly significant, in that for the first time English judicial authority was awarded greater scope for case interpretation, where historically such matters were determined through ministerial debate. This was however, a change that was not without its detractors, nor ignorant of an entrenched inclination to overlook common law in lieu of political fervour.