Heather Mills will be able to cross-examine Sir Paul McCartney personally over his multimillion-pound earnings when the estranged couple go to court today to hammer out a final divorce settlement.
In a bold – some say reckless – move, Ms Mills will be acting for herself at the High Court private hearing after falling out with her lawyers Mishcon de Reya, to whom she owes an estimated £2 million in legal fees
Her decision means that she will have to test any disputed evidence about Sir Paul’s assets, including questioning him in court.
It also imposes a burden on the judge, Mr Justice Bennett, as well as on the legal team for Sir Paul, including the family barrister Nicholas Mostyn, QC, and the divorce solicitor Fiona Shackleton from the London firm Payne Hicks Beach. James Stewart, a family lawyer with the London law firm Manches, said: “Because Heather Mills is a litigant in person, the court and particularly the judge will have to go out of their way to ensure that her points are made.”
The judge, he added, was hugely experienced, but the decision would mean extra work for him and lawyers on the other side who will have to do much of her work for her. “To be frank, it is very brave to go into a five-day hearing without the benefit of legal representatives – these final financial hearings can be very complex, even for the lawyers, and involve experts such as accountants and others if there is any dispute over the value of assets.”
Previous attempts at a settlement foundered over Ms Mills’s refusal to agree to be bound by confidentiality clauses preventing her from writing or talking about the couple’s four-year marriage.
Sir Paul is believed to have offered Ms Mills a lump sum in the region of £20 million, as well as an annual payment of some £2.5 million until the couple’s daughter, Beatrice, reaches 18 – a total package worth £55 million from his estimated £825 million fortune. But the deal depends on her agreement to a confidentiality clause. Ms Mills is reported to be pushing for a package worth nearer £70 million to £80 million. The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice will be behind closed doors but if either side then appeals against the judge’s decision, a hearing in the Court of Appeal would be in public.
Mr Stewart said that the judge was unlikely to impose a confidentiality order as part of a package. But he added: “Although any litigant has the right to tell his or her story at the appropriate time, parties in family proceedings cannot disclose details of the evidence disclosed during the hearing – and to do so would be a contempt of court.”
The judge would look at what allegations and details were already in the public domain and might decide there was no point in seeking to impose any promise of confidentiality, he said.
Also this week in the High Court Family Division a landmark hearing on prenuptial agreements goes ahead. If the McCartneys had such an agreement, a financial deal would have been far easier to achieve, lawyers say.
The test case comes in another multimillion-pound divorce battle, involving the property tycoon Stuart Crossley, 62, and his wife Susan, 50, whose previous three marriages included one to the racehorse breeder Robert Sangster. Mrs Crossley has £18 million to her name after three divorces but is pursuing Mr Crossley for a slice of his declared £45 million fortune even though she signed a prenuptial agreement not to do so. In December appeal judges ruled that the couple’s prenuptial agreement should be considered as a key factor in determining the split of assets.
They backed a judge’s decision that, because of the agreement, Mrs Crossley’s claims could be heard in a single day.
Source: The Times.