In IC v RC [2020] EWHC 2997 (Fam) Knowles J considered when an order may be amended under the slip rule (rule 29.16(1) FPR) in circumstances where the husband argued that the order ceased to have effect.

In this case, a financial remedy consent order was approved by the court requiring the husband to pay periodical payments to the wife during their joint lives. The husband argued that he had a reduction in his income and, therefore, applied to vary the order. The wife made a cross-application to enforce the order. At the final hearing, it was accepted that the husband’s income had lowered. The order for periodical payments was varied to reflect the husband’s reduced income.

The husband was unrepresented and so counsel for the wife drafted the order that was later approved and sealed by the court. The order provided that one trigger for the end of periodical payments was the ‘applicant’s remarriage’. The husband later re-married and stopped paying. He stated that he understood the order to mean that the periodical payments would stop at his remarriage. The wife issued an application to correct the order under the slip rule. The order was corrected by the court to read ‘the respondent’s remarriage.’

The husband later instructed direct access counsel to apply for permission to appeal (out of time). He argued that the court had no power or jurisdiction to amend the order under the slip rule, as the order ceased to have any effect following his remarriage.

Knowles J held that the slip rule was applicable, and therefore amendments to an order can be made, at any stage in proceedings to ensure that the order properly reflects what the court intended. The reasoning behind the decision being that the words ‘at any time’ in rule 29.16 applies equally to orders that are no longer in existence. It was noted that if the court accepted the husband’s submission, he would benefit from the order in a manner not intended by the court which would be ‘profoundly unjust to the wife’ (at [34]).

This judgment also highlights the dangers of simply referring to the parties as the ‘applicant’ or ‘respondent’. An individual’s party status may change throughout proceedings as occurred in this case where the wife was the original applicant for financial remedies but the husband subsequently became the applicant when he applied to vary the order.

Daniel Proctor