Ladies and gentlemen.
I have never won an award in my life and therefore I was surprised, and I thought delighted, to be given the Lifetime Achievement Award.
I have also heard that these are the Oscars of the financial world. I then remembered watching the Oscars in Los Angeles one year and seeing some old dodderer appear for a lifetime achievement award. He was escorted by two very attractive young women. He said a few words, some black and white film footage was shown and then he was escorted away. I hope I am not in the same category yet!
However, so far as black and white is concerned, when I started in the law my view of justice was just that. Now, some 40 years later, I realise that justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and there are many shades of grey. Put not your faith in judges.
When I started the law in the Sixties, there were some very strange beasties roaming the divorce field. There was ‘jactitation’ of marriage. I have had to rehearse that word a few times before today. It is not what you may think. The purpose of a petition for jactitation of marriage was unjustifiable assertion that a marriage existed. Thus a party would seek a declaration by the Court that the parties were not married coupled with an injunction preventing the other party from claiming that he or she was married to you.
That was only abolished in 1986. Then there was the remedy of restitution of conjugal rights. A person who deserted the other marriage partner was ordered to return and to render conjugal rights. Apparently between 1965 and 1967 there were 105 petitions — 60 by husbands and 45 by wives. That too was abolished but in 1973.
Then there was the doctrine of connivance. Before this was abolished in 1969, if the Court was satisfied that the person issuing a petition for adultery had connived in obtaining evidence or indeed condoned the adultery in any way, his or her petition, as the case may be, would be dismissed. Nowadays, of course, the parties often cooperate in the giving of that evidence, eg confession statements. Then there was collusion, where any secret agreement between the parties regarding financial arrangements was not allowed by the Court and that was abolished in 1969.
So a new dawn arrived in 1973 under the Matrimonial Causes Act which Act has been operating now for nearly half a century. However even the Act of 1973 did not do justice to the modern world. I wonder how many of you know how many millionaires there were in 1973 in the UK? There were 36. Guess how many there are today — 284,317. There were no billionaires in 1973. There are 43 billionaires in the UK now. There was in effect a glass ceiling of about £10-12 million which no litigant could break.
That all changed with the millennium and the case of White v White. It took two West Country farmers to bring about a complete change in the law. The Supreme Court announced proudly that men and women were equal and that the breadwinner made no greater contribution than the homemaker. Thus the doctrine of equality, and very often division equally of assets, became the password for fairness. Because of the case of White, England became the shopping capital of the world for divorce so far as wives are concerned, and sometimes husbands.
For those of you thinking about embarking upon marriage, a few words about pre-nuptial agreements. It is normally a man who wants a pre-nuptial agreement because he has the wealth although in certain cases one can see a woman wanting it, particularly if all her future husband’s assets are tied up in trusts.
Even before the Radmacher v Granatino case which was decided by a Supreme Court in a Judgment on 20 October of this year, the Courts were beginning to feel that pre-nuptial agreements had to be taken seriously. Indeed I did a case a few years ago when a pre-nuptial agreement was upheld. That happened in another case quite recently. However there were no real guidelines and it was very much left to the judge in question.
One word of warning: put not your faith in judges. Going to Court is a lottery in three respects: who the Judge is, how each party behaves in the witness box, and finally there is always the unforeseen event. My unforeseen event is speaking to you tonight.
Anyway, as one of the youngest and most amusing High Court Judges said in a recent speech, he would rather have bridesmaids at his wedding than Fiona Shackleton or Raymond Tooth by his side.
I hope that has been of some assistance to you.
Finally, thank you very much Spear’s for giving me this prestigious award.