Sham marriage tales: not as much fun as rom-coms would have you believe
The High Court has rejected an appeal from an ex-barrister who was disbarred for deceiving the court when he fraudulently tried to obtain a divorce.
In 2020, the Bar disciplinary tribunal found that barrister Andrew Ehi Ukiwa, who was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 2010, had dishonestly sent divorce documents to a wrong address, to end a "sham" marriage.
In May 2012 Ukiwa went to Nigeria to visit his ill father. The barrister stopped in Lagos, where he met a woman with whom he had no prior relationship, having only connected with her on Facebook the previous month. The woman, described as a medical practitioner, was unnamed in the tribunal's findings.
Within a month of meeting, the pair got married, and Ukiwa supported his wife's application for a UK visa. But when Ukiwa returned to the UK shortly afterwards, he withdrew his support for the visa. The barrister told the Home Office his marriage was a “sham”, claiming that he had been “misled and deceived into marrying" his spouse, and said her "sole purpose" of marrying him was "to procure a British visa”.
Ukiwa's spouse still managed to obtain a visa, and in March 2013 she turned up at the barrister's London home, without warning. But Ukiwa refused to let her in.
Ukiwa filed for divorce in 2013, but he was required to obtain his wife's consent. The barrister deliberately sent the divorce petition to the wrong address, where an acknowledgment of service was signed by someone who wasn't his wife. The court was duped and issued a decree nisi.
Ukiwa remarried in 2014. But in 2016, the matter of the questionable divorce was heard by a family court. Ukiwa's wife, backed up by a handwriting expert, said that she had not signed the acknowledgment of service. The family court ruled that Ukiwa had fraudulently secured the divorce in 2013.
In 2020, the Bar tribunal agreed. It found that Ukiwa had deliberately attempted to deceive the court during the attempted divorce proceedings in 2013. “This dishonesty was not only related to his wife but also it was dishonesty in relation to a court in providing a false address for her," found the tribunal, concluding that the barrister had tried to "obtain a divorce behind her back.”
The tribunal disbarred Ukiwa, saying his dishonest conduct was "prejudicial to the administration of justice, which was likely to diminish confidence in the legal profession".
Ukiwa has now appealed, He argued before the High Court that the tribunal had made a serious procedural error by departing from the finding of a court on the matter, and said the tribunal's approach to fact-finding was against the requirements of natural justice, according to a report by the Law Gazette.
However, Mrs Justice Collins Rice in the High Court rejected the appeal. The judge ruled that there had been no such jurisdictional error, and that Ukiwa had been given a proper and fair hearing. "It was from start to finish an exercise in going the extra mile to ensure that Mr Ukiwa was not subjected to prejudice or unfairness in the proceedings before it," said Collins Rice J.
The judge said that it was proven that Ukiwa had committed a fraud, as both the tribunal and family judge had found that Ukiwa had supplied the wrong address to the family court, as well as establishing a link between that address and his wife's forged signature.
A spokesman for the Bar Standards Board told RollOnFriday: "The original tribunal decision, which has now been upheld by the High Court, reflects the fact that engaging in conduct which seeks to deceive the court, including where the barrister is a party to proceedings, is incompatible with the ethical standards that the public expect of the profession and continued membership of the Bar."