Heather Mills minus the divorce lawyer

Will there be blood on the courtroom carpet this week?

As Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills face one another other in court this week, Sir Paul will be flanked by some of the country’s toughest lawyers. Ms. Mills, meanwhile, has elected to represent herself. To my way of thinking, having represented a client in a similar scenario only last week in London’s High Court, to go into court unrepresented is as foolhardy as anyone could ever imagine.

For those unfamiliar with the facilities at the Royal Courts of Justice, let me describe the atmosphere in the sombre courtroom. . Until a final deal is signed and approved by the Court, a fully fought contest could yet take place. Even an agreement reached “in principle” does not guarantee a done deal – and could still break down.

The courtroom is imposing. The High Court judge, Mr Justice Bennett, will sit on a raised dais, without robes or wig. Ranks of lawyers will be seated opposite him. The formidable Queen’s Counsel Nicholas Mostyn, who pulls no punches – he once fearlessly cross-examined an entire opposing team of lawyers, including one by video link while she holidayed in Japan – will sit on the front row. I do not expect him to spare Heather Mills. Behind them will be the barristers and solicitors.

The junior lawyers assisting with the case will bring up the rear. Teetering piles of files, all numbered and paginated, will be stacked on the desks. Individual sets will be placed before the judge, every one of the lawyers and both parties involved. Microphones will be suspended from the ceiling, for an accurate taped record of the hearing. The air will be cold; the atmosphere will be tense and thunderous.

When Heather Mills steps into this courtroom, she will face her husband, this menacing phalanx of lawyers ranged against her, and the judge – who will, I expect, keep the proceedings strictly private. It is only then, I suspect, that she will begin to realise what she is in for. In this courtroom, there will be no prisoners and if an agreement is to be made into a final order, she will be expected to sign up to a draconian agreement drafted by Sir Paul’s lawyers. In my experience there will be a lot of argument about the period of time over which payments are to be made. It isn’t easy for anyone – even Sir Paul Mccartney – to raise a multi-million pound settlement within weeks. It is in his interests to stretch it out as long as possible. In the meantime, agreement must be reached about paying interim maintenance and interest until the payment is made in full. Fine tuning will be needed so that the deal does not become imbalanced in one party’s favour. There will be declarations as to property ownership and contents, tax indemnities, warranties and assurances. There is also likely to be an agreed form of ‘gagging’ clause, – a tough negotiation in itself, if Heather wishes to continue to be a “celebrity”. Then there is child support and other payments for Beatrice. A lot of work must be done. For Heather Mills, the most important point of any consent order, is what is not included and needs to go in, to protect her interests. For Heather Mills to negotiate such an order on her own, pitted against a range of London’s top lawyers, would be lunacy.

But what if there isn’t a settlement? What would she be facing then? Ms. Mills will be up against those some legal brains, which have been finely trained in what is too often an unbelievably vicious process. She will open her mouth before a judge who will not shrink from making the most robust of judgments against her. And she will not be allowed to interrupt.

She seeks an enormous financial settlement, but she will have to put her emotions to one side and deal with her case by reference to the law. I doubt that even she appreciates how difficult that will be. All the fire will be directed at her. The Judge will listen courteously to her arguments, and he will assist her through this process, but at the end of the day, the Court will make a “reasonable” award, and no more. It is extremely unlikely that Heather Mills has the legal skills, or even the case, to come away with anything more than a “reasonable” figure – even if she hopes for more.

Indeed, if she decides not to settle, I think she is in great danger of receiving an award that is significantly less than the settlements that were allegedly offered on previous occasions. If the judge’s award is less than the amount previously offered by Sir Paul, she may also be ordered to pay her husband’s legal costs. The costs of this case are reportedly £2million on each side. Paying two sets of costs could significantly deplete any award made.

Admittedly, Ms. Mills’ experiences representing herself in court, up against her idolised husband and the pillars of the legal establishment, could have all the makings of a great film. She could even play herself as the heroine. However, I fear that single-handed battle in the High Court is a labour for which she is ill-qualified. Even if she does settle, she could succumb to an unbalanced deal that she will regret for the rest of her life. With this in mind, a movie version may end up resembling the McCartney Chainsaw Massacre – with Heather Mills as the victim.

1 comment

Geeklawyer - February 10, 2008 at 7:11pm

I have represented several litigants in person taking over their representation on a pro-bono basis. I don’t demur at all from what you, rightly, say is the Herculanean struggle that she has before her if she stands at the Bar alone.

My small caveat is that the hearing itself is likely to be the very model of fairness and balance in its conduct by the judge. The judiciary are painfully aware that LIPs are extremely vulnerable and often go to elaborate lengths to protect them from tactical tricks by their opponents.

Lips are often a damned nuisance and clog up the courts with all sorts of weird and asinine litigation. But not always. In a case such as this where the stakes are high, the issues real and the disparity of legal resources great then procedural fairness in the High Court is not likely to be a big issue.

That said the LIP does indeed “have a fool for a client” in Mills case of course she has little option. I dont have much time for her myself – but were I a family barrister I’d like to think I’d step in to assist only to prevent the carnage all too likely to occur.

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