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Prest v Prest Court of Appeal ruling causes consternation for family lawyers

05th November 2012

The case involves the high-profile, high-value financial settlement of Michael and Yasmin Prest.

Mr Prest, a Nigerian-born oil tycoon based in Britain, appealed against the financial settlement claim of his ex-wife which resulted in him being required to give her £17.5 million worth of London property.

Mr Prest argued that under Nigerian law his assets were not his to give away and, as business gains, were held in trust to be dispersed to his children and the children of his siblings.

In a split decision, whereby two commercial law judges overruled the sitting family law judge, it was decided that the first-instance judge should not have adopted a wholly different approach to the matter of business wealth, despite the case belonging firmly within the remit of family law.

Lord Justice Rimer said that wives should not be “entitled to a preferential exemption” to laws which have long been established for the commercial sector.

For many family lawyers, who have followed the Prest v Prest divorce case unfold over many months and have witnessed Mr Prest’s attempts to conceal assets and generally confound the progression of the case, the decision by the Court of Appeal is disappointing.

In his dissenting judgment Lord Justice Thorpe said that by ignoring the precedent of fairness set in other high-value financial claims the court had presented “an open road and a fast car to the money maker who disapproves of the principles developed by the House of Lords that now govern the exercise of the judicial discretion in big money cases”.

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