Williams v Williams – a Cautionary Tale

Clicker beware! The case of Williams v Williams [2024] EWHC 733 (Fam) is a cautionary tale for matrimonial practitioners. In this matter, a solicitor error led to the unintended pronouncement of a final order of divorce on the wrong case, granted within 20 minutes of the application being lodged via the divorce portal. Upon realising their error, the applicant’s solicitor made a prompt, further application to the court to set aside.

In the first instance, the Family Court did so; albeit itself on procedurally questionable grounds. The respondent husband opposed set aside and sought a hearing before the President of the Family Division. 

That judgment is noteworthy. Despite the wife identifying various bases to try to justify a set side of the final order (erroneously applied for but seemingly correctly pronounced) the court was not persuaded and determined (or perhaps reiterated?) that “a final order made without procedural irregularity should stand for all the world.” 

Arguably, this does little to change prevailing authorities, but they take on a rather renewed importance in the context of present-day, electronic applications lodged via the HMCTS platform. 

If there is a learning point in this it is that mistake is no defence and care must be taken when interacting with the portal system. I might not be the only lawyer that looks twice the next time my applications are lodged, and feels rather considerable sympathy to all parties involved. Further, one cannot help but feel that the introduction of additional safeguards in the HMCTS work-flow to protect parties from unintended consequences might not be unwelcomed. 
The full judgment for anyone that wishes to review it is accessible here: Williams v Williams - Find case law - The National Archives


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