- W and H met in 1998 and married in 2001. In 2000 they set up a charity, Save Chinese Tigers (‘SCT UK’), to assist China with the conservation of endangered South China tigers. In 2002 a Mauritius trust was set up (‘CTSAT’) with SCT UK as its sole beneficiary. The parties’ relationship broke down in July 2012.
- W petitioned for divorce in August 2012. She did not seek to argue that CTSAT was a post-nuptial settlement at the time. 11 months later, she amended her Form A to include a claim to vary CTSAT as a post-nuptial settlement.
- At trial, the judge found that CTSAT had been established with the sole intention and purpose of furthering the conservation of the South China tigers. The judge found that this intention and purpose had not subsequently changed. The first instance judge found that the contention that the trust had since acquired the ulterior purpose of benefiting W and/or H was “a late invention by the wife” and that W was not a reliable witness. The judge concluded that CTSAT was not a post-nuptial settlement and did not constitute and had never constituted a resource of either H or W for the purposes of section 25 MCA 1973.
- The wife appealed the judge’s findings of fact by way of a “reasons challenge” directed at the judgment. The issue was whether the judgment failed adequately to give reasons for the findings of fact, the judge’s evaluation of those facts, and the conclusions he reached, so as to render the judgment unsustainable.
- W contended that the judge had failed to deal with certain critical issues in his judgment. Had he done so, she claimed, he would have found that CTSAT was at least in part for the benefit of the parties from inception and therefore a variable post-nuptial settlement.
- W’s appeal was dismissed.
- In a case where there is a mass of complex factual evidence, the judge must be regarded as having considerable latitude in deciding which of the legion of issues it is necessary for them to deal with in their judgment.
- The starting point for determining whether CTSAT was a post-nuptial settlement was the formal written documents identifying the object and purpose of CTSAT.
- Given that W sought to go behind the terms of the documents, the judge’s assessment of the parties’ credibility was the single most critical finding. The judge had made clear and unequivocal findings in relation this key aspect and there could have been no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the basis upon which the judge reached his conclusion.
- Whilst economical judgments were to be applauded, it was hard to resist the submission that the judgment of the trial judge, if not short of background and of analysis of the surrounding argument, was perilously close to it. Nonetheless the judge’s finding in respect to the purpose of CTSAT would have been the same if the judge had dealt specifically with the issues, which the wife claimed he had failed to do. The case turned on the credibility of the parties and the first instance judge was entitled to reach the conclusions he did.