Hart v Hart: Episode III – the saga continues
Matthew Taylor comments on the latest update in the long-running and notorious case of Hart v Hart...
The soap opera of the case of Hart v Hart continues, having first been addressed by us in September 2017 when the Court of Appeal dismissed Mrs Hart’s appeal that she should only receive £3.5 million out of a £9 million asset pot, the bulk of which was in the sole name of her 83-year-old property developer husband.
We revisited the case in March 2018 when Mrs Hart, having already been forced to apply to the High Court to successfully gain access to the premises of a company, Drakestown Property Ltd, discovered that Mr Hart had removed all management records. He was ordered on two separate occasions to provide the records but failed to do so, leading to his 14-month imprisonment for “serious contempt” and being ordered to meet his wife’s £100,000 legal costs.
The latest episode, heard by the High Court in October 2018, has seen the net of contempt widen even further, with Mrs Hart returning to court after Mr Hart’s 65-year-old sister, Mrs Byrne, failed to provide information that she had been ordered to produce by the court upon her consenting to being joined to the proceedings.
Mrs Byrne attempted to argue that she had been unable to provide the information without the cooperation of her brother, Mr Hart, but the judge was not persuaded by this, finding that he had “no doubt whatsoever” that Mrs Byrne was in contempt and that she had “the power and the right to provide information” but had “simply chosen not to do so.”
Mrs Byrne was accordingly found to be in contempt in relation to two orders and was sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment in respect of each, with the sentences to run concurrently.
It remains to be seen whether this sentence will lead to Mrs Byrne purging her contempt by providing the information that she was ordered to. Sadly for Mrs Hart, it appears from the transcript of the sentencing judgment in respect of Mrs Byrne that Mr Hart has not chosen to purge his contempt and remains unwilling to provide the relevant information to Mrs Hart. Given that fact, it may be that we are forced to revisit this case once more in the future, with subsequent judgments now arriving with the regularity usually reserved for Hollywood franchises.
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Matthew Taylor is a solicitor in the family law team at national law firm Weightmans.