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Marco Pierre-White loses privacy case against divorce lawyers

Date:25 NOV 2008

Mr Justice Eady has dismissed an application by restaurateur Marco Pierre-White who was endeavouring to sue his wife's lawyers, Withers, for breach of confidence and privacy and misuse of private information.

Withers were the solicitors for Mrs Pierre-White and in the course of the parties' matrimonial proceedings she had passed to them copies of private documents of Mr Pierre-White. He claimed the law firm had encouraged the obtaining of those documents and that encouragement together with their retention and use by the lawyers was unlawful.

Mr Pierre-White failed in his application and his whole claim was struck out as disclosing no cause of action.

Most importantly for divorce lawyers, Mr Justice Eady upheld the lawfulness of the common practice of clients and divorce lawyers to obtain and use such private or confidential information. He said such information as they have been given has been received, noted and retained purely for use in connection with Court proceedings and the protection of their client's interest in that context. That is in accordance with the common practice recognised in the Hildebrand cases. It does not involve "misuse".

As Mr Justice Eady emphasised, the obtaining of such documents must not be done impermissibly, for example, by intercepting post or breaking into a desk, study or vehicle. In his judgement he said: "the impermissible act cannot be excused merely because of the motive".

If Pierre-White had succeeded, then divorce lawyers would have lost a key weapon in their armoury to ensure they had all necessary information about an opposing spouse's financial and other affairs. It would have brought to an end to what is known as the "Hildebrand procedure" whereby such information can be lawfully obtained, subject to certain conditions. Obtaining a fair and transparent hearing in divorce cases would inevitably have become more difficult.