The high emotion and antagonism sadly often arising from divorce can lead to lies being told in court. Family judges, however, have a panoply of powers to deal with such behaviour, as was shown by the case of a wife who sought to conceal the whereabouts of a valuable painting from her husband.
Following proceedings designed to achieve a fair distribution of money and assets between the former couple, the husband had been awarded the entire contents of a house, including a painting by Polish abstract painter Caziel. When the painting was not delivered up to him, however, he took enforcement action.
The wife repeatedly stated – including twice under oath in a court witness box – that she did not have the painting and had not seen it for some years. She said that the husband had keys to the house and implied that he had taken it. Only after the husband lodged an application to have her committed to prison for contempt of court did she apologise and confess that she had lied. The husband had since recovered the painting, but persisted with his committal application.
The High Court noted that the threat of possible imprisonment had undoubtedly had a coercive effect on the wife. However, in refusing permission for the husband to proceed further with the committal application, the Court observed that he had achieved all that he had set out to achieve by the proceedings.
Noting that perjury is a serious offence, the Court found that, if the husband wished to take the matter further, it would be more appropriate to refer his complaint to the police with a view to the wife being proceeded against in a criminal law forum. The wife was ordered to pay all the legal costs of the enforcement proceedings and half the costs of the committal application.