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Slippery slope: A clarification on the use of the Slip Rule

Date posted: 21 December 2020

Family caseworker Kauser Fadal considers this useful appeal hearing which clarified the use of the ‘slip rule’ in family court proceedings.

 

IC v RC EWHC 2997 (Fam)

 

“Man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong” or so the quote goes. This case relates to the process in which the court corrects its errors otherwise known as the slip rule. While the slip rule is supposed to be used to correct minor errors, what constitutes a minor error can be an area of contention as demonstrated in the case of IC v RC [EWHC 2997 (Fam)].

 

This case relates to a lengthy marriage of 29 years. The initial finance proceedings were heard in 2017, a Consent Order was agreed between the parties with a provision that the husband was to pay the wife periodical payments as a condition of the Order. The periodical payments were ordered to end on the condition that one of the following trigger events takes place:

 

  1. Either the applicant or the respondent die;
  2. The applicant remarries; or
  3. A further order.

 

The case returned to court in 2017 when the husband applied to vary the periodical payments ordered. His application was considered and the periodical payments were varied to allow for the husband to pay a reduced amount. It is worth noting that in these proceedings, the husband was the applicant and the wife the respondent. The wife was represented by counsel at this hearing and the husband appeared as a litigant in person. Counsel for the wife drafted the Order as is normal practice when the other party acts as a litigant in person. The error arose when counsel failed to amend the clause related to the trigger event that would lead to the periodical payments ending. The new Order did not reflect that the husband was, at this stage in the case, the applicant.

 

The husband relied on the wording of the new Order and planned his life and finances in reliance on the error. The husband remarried and informed the wife shortly thereafter that he would be ceasing periodical payments as per the clause in the order that allowed for the payments to stop when the applicant remarries.

 

The wife applied to amend the Order under the slip rule following the husband’s refusal to amend the 2017 Order by consent. In September 2019, DJ Wright amended the Order under the slip rule so that the word ‘applicant’ was amended to ‘respondent’ thus correcting the error and ensuring the wife’s entitlement to periodical payments.

 

The husband wrote to the court shortly after the Order was amended and in October 2019 and the matter was heard before DJ Wright. The husband’s argument stemmed from his belief that the slip rule was to only be used to correct minor clerical omissions and typographical errors in court orders. The husband was of the belief that the impact on his life and finances meant that the use of the slip rule in these circumstances would not be appropriate. The Judge made it very clear to the husband that the Order should have been reflective of the intention of the court at the time that the Order was made. The Judge explained that there was sympathy for the husband’s position but ultimately stated that:

 

“it doesn’t alter the principle that […] the order that I made should be accurate and this isn’t an opportunity to review the order”

 

The husband appealed this decision and the appeal was heard before Mrs Justice Knowles in November 2020. Whilst acknowledging her sympathies with the position of the husband, the court ultimately decided that “save in the most unusual of circumstances, the interests of justice in correcting an inaccurate order are likely to prevail over other considerations.”

 

The husband’s appeal was ultimately dismissed thus offering some clarity as to the use of the slip rule. It was found that, despite sympathy for the position of the husband, the amendment made under the slip rule was made correctly and that there was no good reason why the Order should not have been amended especially given that failing to amend the Order would deprive the wife of her entitlement.

 

If you require assistance in a family law matter, please contact Mavis on 020 8885 7986 for an appointment with a specialist.