Even the courts can fall victim to fraud and certainly did so in one case in which a disbarred barrister deceived family judges on a wholesale basis into believing that they had jurisdiction to entertain divorce petitions lodged by foreign nationals.
The case concerned 20 divorce petitions and one to dissolve a civil partnership. Some of them had proceeded to the point where decrees nisi or absolute were granted. The fraud was detected after it emerged that, in each case, the address of one or other of the divorcing parties was given as the same house in London.
That address belonged to members of the family of a former barrister who had been disbarred after being convicted of benefit frauds. Forensic analysis of the petitions suggested to varying degrees of probability that, in some cases, he had forged the signatures or sworn statements of the petitioner, the respondent, or both.
After proceedings were launched by the Queen’s Proctor under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the High Court had no hesitation in accepting that the petitions were tainted by deception. Those petitions that were still at an early stage were dismissed and decrees granted in respect of others were set aside. The disbarred barrister was ordered to pay the costs of the case on the punitive indemnity basis.