A high profile divorce firm has pledged its full support to the lawyer who mistakenly applied for a final order for the wrong client.

London firm Vardags said its main priority was to make sure the staff member responsible was reassured and comforted and to rebuild their confidence.

The High Court ruled last week that a final order for divorce should be upheld despite the application being made by mistake when the wrong client was selected through the HMCTS online divorce portal. Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, said the final divorce had to stand and that there was no precedent for overturning an order where there had been no procedural irregularity.

The outcome prompted an outpouring of support from lawyers on social media for the person who made the mistake. The firm’s founder and president Ayesha Vardag told the Gazette that no blame was attached and urged those in charge of the system to remember that it is dealing with human beings.

Ayesha Vardag, divorce lawyer and President of Vardags, photographed at her office at 10 Old Bailey, London

Vardag: Court decision is the kind that makes people run from the profession

Source: Jonathan Goldberg/Shutterstock

Vardag said: ‘The young lawyer who made the slip with the drop down menu on the new divorce portal is one of the best of the next generation. Not sloppy, not careless. Totally committed, extremely able. That young lawyer, our brilliant young lawyer, genuinely needs support to deal with the trauma of it all.

‘Even with me saying “any of us could have done this”, and with collective responsibility, it’s the kind of thing that wakes people up at night, gives them breakdowns or makes them run away from the law completely.’ 

Vardag said the mistake happened after the wrong name was clicked on from a drop-down menu on the divorce portal. She claimed that court staff had admitted this had happened a few times and that it felt like a design flaw.

Commenters on social media asked why the system required users to click on names rather than require them to input case references, which would prevent this type of mistake from happening.

Vardag added: ‘The courts shouldn’t change people’s marital status based on a slip on an online portal. Whether the person makes the slip themselves or their lawyer does. It goes against the principle of intention which suffuses our law. It’s absurd that we can have orders amended under the “slip rule” and everyone understands it happens, but when it’s a slip on the portal it’s set in stone.’

London firm Ribet Myles had represented the husband in the divorce proceedings and had opposed the application to set aside the final order.

Julian Ribet, the firm’s founding partner, said his client had not known for months whether he was divorced or not and he wanted his legal status to be confirmed.

He added: ‘The wife’s solicitors hoped that the order would be treated as an administrative error and deemed never to have existed.

‘We objected on the basis that the divorce had been properly applied for, and was therefore effective, notwithstanding the fact that the wife’s solicitors had in fact applied on behalf of the wrong client.’


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