The most senior family judge in England and Wales has set aside 21 fraudulent divorce petitions produced by a disbarred barrister.
Sir James Munby, president of the family division, said that Khalik Bhatoo had been the architect of a fraud involving false addresses and forged signatures for petitions between 2006 and 2015.
In each case, the 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,” Sir James said.
Bhatoo was convicted in 2003 at Kingston magistrates’ court of two offences of dishonesty for obtaining housing and council tax benefits.
He was disbarred three years later after a disciplinary tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court found him guilty of three offences of professional misconduct.
Sir James said that of the 21 petitions, six had yet to reach decree. In four, decree nisi was pronounced, and in 11 decrees nisi and decree absolute had been pronounced. All claimed parties had lived at one of two neighbouring addresses in Southall, in west London.
Both properties were owned by relatives of Bhatoo and the judge said it would appear that none of the parties had ever lived there.
Bhatoo would have charged for the drawing up of the petitions.
In divorce cases an address has to be provided to prove that the court has jurisdiction to grant the decree. Bhatoo told his “clients” that it would be more convenient for them if his address was used, ensuring all the court documents came to him. One of the petitioners, at least, wanted to conceal her whereabouts from her estranged husband although there are other ways of achieving that.
Sir James dismissed each of the petitions and ordered that Bhatoo pay the Queen’s Proctor costs on an indemnity basis.