The country’s most senior family judge has uncovered a massive fraud on the English legal system in which 180 Italian couples made use of an anonymous mailbox address to lodge bogus divorce petitions at 137 county courts.
In each of the cases, the petitioner or the respondent had given his or her address as a ‘flat’ in Maidenhead and claimed to be habitually resident in England and Wales. The scam was designed to side-step tougher divorce laws in Italy and was disguised by petitions being issued at county courts the length and breadth of the country.
Police swooped on the ‘flat’ after an eagle-eyed court clerk spotted an anomaly. The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, observed, “It was in fact a mailbox, mailbox 201, one of a number of mailboxes located in commercial premises. Given the dimensions of the mailbox, it is clear that not even a single individual, however small, could possibly reside in it.”
He added that, in all but one of the cases, it was ‘clear beyond sensible argument’ that the divorce petitions were ‘founded on a lie’. Of the 180 petitions issued, 71 were still at an early stage. However, the English courts had been duped into granting 18 decrees nisi and no less than 91 decrees absolute.
Following an extremely rare application to the High Court by the Queen’s Proctor, Sir James ruled all of those decrees ‘void’ having been ‘procured by fraud’. The ruling meant that the couples involved remained married to their original partners, even if they had since remarried and had children. The judge urged that swift steps be taken, including the centralisation of handling of divorce petitions, to prevent any similar frauds in future.