The case of the accidental bigamists
Couples may be committing acci dental bigamy, a senior High Court judge has suggested as he cancelled 21 divorces organised by a disgraced former barrister.
James Munby, the president of the High Court’s family division, said Khalik Bhatoo had used false addresses on the divorce petitions and had forged signatures and filled out forms on at least nine of them.
He said the couples were technically still married — even if they had subsequently remarried and had children with someone else.
The case, brought by the Queen’s Proctor, who can intervene in cases of divorce or probate where dishonesty is suspected, also means that any later marriages would automatically be null and void.
Munby said: “Underlying proceedings were tainted by deception in relation to the address of either the petitioner or the respondent, and the decrees, where decrees have been granted, were obtained by deception.”
Bhatoo, who Munby described as “the architect of these frauds”, was called to the bar in 1999 and was disbarred in 2006 after being convicted of falsely claiming housing benefit and council tax.
He was also found guilty of three offences of professional misconduct in May 2005.
The court heard that he had told the 21 couples that they should fraudulently use one of two addresses as their registered address on the divorce petition, and had used a Chancery Lane chambers which no longer exists on some of the papers.
The two properties were at the time owned by family members or associates of Bhatoo, the court heard.
None of the couples had returned a formal answer to letters sent by the court informing them of the case, the judge said.
Under the law someone can have a defence to bigamy if they genuinely believed they were free to remarry.
Telegraph Group Ltd