Judge blasts couple's legal bills
A rich businessman and his former partner have been criticised by a High Court judge for spending a "truly absurd" amount on lawyers after becoming embroiled in a fight over money.
Mr Justice Holman said Lawrence Sullivan, 61, and Sandra Seagrove, 45, had run up legal bills of £1.3 million in a dispute over £500,000.
The judge said the couple, who had lived near London, had been together for more than 20 years and since separating in 2010 had litigated on a "titanic scale".
He said Miss Seagrove was claiming a half share in a property worth about £1 million. She had run up bills of £800,000. Mr Sullivan had run up bills of £500,000.
Mr Justice Holman described the case as "very simple" and said the litigation was "out of control".
And he "strongly urged" the pair to reach a settlement.
The judge made his complaints at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
He is the third High Court judge in recent weeks to raise concerns about the cost of litigation.
Last month Mr Justice Mostyn suggested the introduction of ''price fixing'' after analysing a case in which a businessman and his estranged wife had run up ''grotesque'' legal bills of more than £900,000 while fighting over assets worth less than £2.9 million.
And Mr Justice Peter Jackson called for rules governing the management of litigation in the Court of Protection - where issues involving sick and vulnerable people are analysed - to be tightened after telling how two cases had left the taxpayer with a bill of nearly £500,000.
"It is a very simple case," Mr Justice Holman said today. "Since their relationship broke down they have spent £1.3 million."
The judge added: "The reality is that Miss Seagrove is claiming a beneficial half share in an asset which has a net value of the order of £1 million. Half of £1 million is £500,000."
He complained of "appalling profligacy" on "legal expenditure" and said the pair had "litigated on what can only be described as a titanic scale".
"This is completely and utterly disproportionate. It is completely out of control," he said.
"They have already expended a truly absurd amount of money litigating."
He added: "This case should have settled long ago. (Mr Sullivan) is a businessman. He ought to know better."
A solicitor representing Mr Sullivan said after today's hearing that "the costs" could not have been avoided.
"Going to law is expensive. We tried every alternative to a trial but to no avail. Trial is very much the last resort," said Fiona Lazenby.
"The pursuit of a just cause requires a single-minded determination to see it through. Once caught in the maelstrom it is easier to say that there should be good costs economy than it is to achieve it; if the other side bowls an unmeritorious point at you, you cannot just ignore it - you have to respond and that incurs costs.
"Both sides retained what the judge described as very well-renowned counsel - that doesn't come cheap; but then you don't take a knife to a gunfight.
"Believing in the justice of our cause, as we do, we were ultimately left with no alternative but to litigate. We dearly wish that the costs could have been avoided, but they could not."