In financial proceedings, it is common place for one party to make an allegation that the other has not provided full disclosure of all of their assets, and on occasions one partner can obtain the other's financial documents.
In the case of Imerman, Mrs Imerman's brother (who shared an office and computer system with Mr Imerman) accessed his computer and downloaded a number of documents, which was then given to Mrs Imerman's solicitors.
Mr Imerman successfully applied for an order to be made prohibiting the use of these documents by Mrs Imerman and her legal team, on the grounds that they had been unlawfully obtained and Mrs Imerman was directed to return the documents.
In considering this matter, the Court of Appeal provided guidance on the principles of financial disclosure, which included stating a party will enjoy legal protection of their private and confidential documents, and it is a breach of this protection for the other party to retain, copy or even examine their documents.
Applying the findings in practice, the court will look at how the documents came into the other party's possession, whether these were stored confidentially, and the court have the power to exclude these documents if they find that they have been obtained through inappropriate or illegal means.
Although this case took place a number of years ago, the decision is still being considered and even criticised. It also still provides guidance on what a party and their solicitor should do if they come into possession of the other party's financial documents.
This area can be a minefield (even for legally trained and qualified professionals!) and you should seek legal advice when going through the disclosure process, particularly if you were to come into possession of your ex-partner's documents, which can often happen where separated parties continue to reside at the same address.
Contact Dutton Gregory Solicitors today to protect yourself in the future.
NB - The case of Arbili, which referenced the Imerman case, should also be considered.
' Accordingly, we consider that, in ancillary relief proceedings, while the court can admit [unlawfully obtained] evidence, it has power to exclude it if unlawfully obtained, including power to exclude documents whose existence has only been established by unlawful means. In exercising that power, the court will be guided by what is "necessary for disposing fairly of the application for ancillary relief or for saving costs", and will take into account the importance of the evidence, "the conduct of the parties", and any other relevant factors, including the normal case management aspects. Ultimately, this requires the court to carry out a balancing exercise, something which, we are well aware, is easy to say in general terms but is often very difficult to effect in individual cases in practice.'