Court Deliberates Financial Remedy Claim in Bigamy Case: Balancing Ex Turpi Causa Principle and Matrimonial Partnership

Citation: [2024] EWFC 10 (B)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the [2024] EWFC 10 (B) case, the court was presented with a complex scenario involving an application for a financial remedy following an annulled marriage due to bigamy. The case delves into the realms of public policy, the ex turpi causa principle, and the court’s discretionary powers under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The judgment offers a nuanced examination of the legal standards related to claims for financial remedies in the context of marriages deemed void from inception.

Key Facts

The parties, referred to as PF (applicant) and QF (respondent), presented themselves as married from 2001, but unknown to them at the time of marriage, PF was still legally married to her first husband. This oversight rendered their marriage void ab initio under MCA 1973, s11(b). QF sought to prevent PF from claiming financial remedies arguing that her conduct in entering into a bigamous marriage was egregious enough to debar her from any claim as a matter of public policy, invoking the principle in Whiston v Whiston [1995] Fam. 198. PF, in turn, contested that the court did not possess the power to strike out her financial remedy claim on these grounds.

The primary legal principle at the core of this case is the ex turpi causa principle, which posits that one should not profit from their wrongdoing or criminal act. This case revisits the decision in Whiston v Whiston, where the court held that a bigamist should not be entitled to a financial award on public policy grounds.

The case also examines the shift in attitude of the court towards conduct and financial remedy claims since Whiston, viewing matrimonial assets as a shared pool and recognizing the development towards a concept of equal sharing rather than ancillary relief. The subtleties of this progression are outlined in Miller v Miller; McFarlane v McFarlane [2006] UKHL 24 and Hill v Haines [2008] Ch 412.

Another important legal aspect discussed is the court’s inherent jurisdiction and powers under the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) r.4.4(1), which allocates the court discretion to strike out cases in specific circumstances, re-emphasized by the Supreme Court in Wyatt v Vince [2015] 2 All ER 755, which concluded that the court could not insinuate a strike-out based on the merits or real prospect of success but should focus on whether the application is legally recognisable.

Outcomes

The court concluded that the jurisdiction to debar a person from pursuing a claim on the basis of bigamy, as derived from Whiston v Whiston, remains valid but must align with FPR r.4.4(1), especially under the abuse of the court’s process clause. However, in determining whether this principle should be applied to the present case, the judgment finds closer parallels to Rampal v Rampal (No 2) [2002] Fam 85 rather than Whiston. There is a recognition in the judgment of the evolution of societal norms and the principle of sharing in matrimonial partnerships.

The respondent’s application to strike out the applicant’s claim under the ex turpi causa principle was rejected primarily because both parties knowingly entered into the marriage ceremony, lived as a married couple for many years, and there existed a real matrimonial partnership.

Conclusion

The judgment in [2024] EWFC 10 (B) exemplifies the court’s modern approach towards financial remedies and the nuanced application of public policy principles such as ex turpi causa. It affirms that while a criminal act like bigamy can raise the question of barring financial remedy claims, it is not in itself an absolute barrier, particularly when the marriage, albeit void, encompassed a partnership where assets and responsibilities were shared. The decision signifies the court’s commitment to equity and justice over a rigid application of historical principles, placing emphasis on the genuine nature of the matrimonial partnership and the equitable distribution of its assets.

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