High-flying London law firm got wrong couple divorced after pressing wrong button online

The Royal Courts of Justice in London  (PA Archive)
The Royal Courts of Justice in London (PA Archive)

A couple got divorced by mistake after a leading law firm accidentally pressed the wrong button on an online court system, it has been revealed.

The husband and wife of 22 years were locked into divorce proceedings last year when a member of staff at law firm Vardags made the computer blunder.

The High Court heard an application for a final order of divorce was being sought through the HM Courts and Tribunals Service online divorce portal for a different couple.

But the Vardags staffer selected the file of the wrong couple, and failed to notice the error as they went through the online system and accidentally applied for the order.

The filing was made at 5.14pm on October 3 last year, and the divorce was approved through the online system just 21 minutes later, at 5.35pm.

Vardags applied for the divorce order to be rescinded, but Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, said there is no reason to overturn the order.

The judge accepted that the actions of the solicitor’s firm representing the wife were “inadvertent”, and use of the online portal had been “without the instruction or authority of their client”.

But he said it is “in the public interest that a final order of divorce should be unimpeachable when granted by a court with competent jurisdiction and after compliance with the correct procedural requirements.

“A final order made without procedural irregularity should stand for all the world.”

The judge added that there “is a strong public policy interest in respecting the certainty and finality that flows from a final divorce order and maintaining the status quo that it has established.”

He set out that the error had been made early in the process, by selecting the wrong couple’s file, but the process had then proceeded with the names of the couple clearly displayed on several screens of the online portal.

“Like many similar online processes, an operator may only get to the final screen where the final click of the mouse is made after travelling through a series of earlier screens”, he said.

Vardags argued that a divorce should not be valid and continued when it had been based on a “clerical error”.

Yet the husband in the case argued that the order which was applied and granted in a court process should stand.

Vardags, which promotes itself as the “top divorce lawyers in London”, represents VIP and wealthy clients, including former beauty queen Pauline Chai.