The High Court case Christoforou v Christoforou: As I’ve said here many times, you really never know what you’re going to find when you read family law reports. Who, for example, would ever think that the removal of trees from a plot of land could be the subject of a family law report?
But that was exactly what the recent judgment of Mrs Justice Roberts in the High Court case Christoforou v Christoforou was all about. It was also a lesson in the perils of both taking the law into your own hands and, as indicated by the title to this post, acting out of spite towards your former spouse.
The “tree issue” in The High Court case Christoforou v Christoforou
So how was it that this “tree issue”, as Mrs Justice Roberts called it, came before the court?
Well, the answer was actually quite simple, as Mrs Justice Roberts explained:
“At the conclusion of long-running and highly acrimonious financial litigation flowing from divorce proceedings, Moylan J (as he then was) ordered [in May 2017] the respondent husband to transfer to the applicant wife a small estate of land in Cyprus on which stood many mature olive trees. That transfer of property was but one small part of a wholesale reorganisation of their matrimonial property situate in this jurisdiction and elsewhere. The value of the matrimonial property was substantial (in excess of £60 million)…”
The relevance of the olive trees was, of course, that they were of considerable value – the wife maintained that they were worth in excess of £150,000.
The husband, we are told, was “particularly aggrieved” by the order transferring the land to the wife. He sought to appeal the decision but lost in the Court of Appeal.
When the wife recovered the property in Cyprus in accordance with the order, she discovered that a significant number of the mature olive trees planted on the property had been removed. She also discovered that the trees appeared to have been re-planted on another piece of land in Cyprus, which the husband had retained. She, therefore, commenced enforcement proceedings in which she sought reinstatement of those trees to her land, and/or damages in respect of any trees which had died or otherwise not survived the transplantation process.
The husband initially denied having played any part in the alleged removal of the trees from the wife’s land. However, he subsequently offered to reinstate the trees and pay the wife’s costs of the exercise. He did not, however, admit liability and/or that he had played any part in removing the trees. That issue fell to be determined by Mrs Justice Roberts.
An act of pure spite
Cutting through the evidence, Mrs Justice Roberts was “entirely satisfied” that, on the balance of probabilities, the husband was responsible for the removal of the wife’s trees prior to the formal transfer to her of the plots of land on which they previously stood. She said:
“It was, in my judgment, a substantial operation which was motivated by a desire not only to preserve what he could from land which he had fought tooth and nail to preserve in the context of the ongoing matrimonial proceedings: it was also, as I find, an act of pure spite against the [wife].”
She also found that the husband had deliberately misled the court in the course of the proceedings.
As I indicated earlier, the husband’s actions faced serious consequences. In addition to his own legal costs in relation to the “tree issue”, he had to pay the wife’s costs (which we are told were approaching half a million pounds), and the cost of reinstating the trees (estimated at some 54,000 euros, plus taxes). As I said, a lesson both in the perils of taking the law into your own hands and of acting out of spite towards your former spouse.
You can read the full judgment in The High Court case Christoforou v Christoforou here.
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