Marital confidence claim brought by businessman Bhanu Choudhrie struck out

Chancery Judge strikes out Mr Choudhrie’s claim for declaratory relief against his estranged wife Simrin Choudhrie

In an ex tempore judgment handed down on 11 July 2019, the approved transcript of which was published yesterday, HH Judge David Hodge QC, sitting as a Judge of the Chancery Division, has struck out a claim brought by wealthy Indian businessman Bhanu Choudhrie against his estranged wife, Simrin Choudhrie.

The Judge accepted that the claim disclosed no reasonable grounds for pursuing the relief sought and that it was an abuse of the Court’s process.

Mr Choudhrie had issued proceedings seeking a declaration that his wife, against whom he is also engaged in financial litigation in the Family Court, owed him a duty of confidence in relation to certain information that she received during the course of their marital relationship and for a few months after their separation. The information was said to relate to an investigation that was being conducted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into Rolls Royce, as part of which he and his father Sudhir Choudhrie had been arrested and questioned by the SFO in February 2014. (It was subsequently announced by the SFO that no action would be taken against them). He had also sought an order that she disclose on affidavit details of any persons to whom she had disclosed his allegedly confidential information, although this part of the claim was abandoned on the eve of the strike-out hearing.

There was no claim for damages for any alleged breach of confidence by her, nor a claim for an injunction to restrain her from disclosing his confidential information in the future. Mrs Choudhrie had also made it clear in correspondence that she understood her duties of confidence, that she had not disclosed any of his confidential information, and that the claim against her was pointless.

The Judge accepted Mrs Choudhrie’s argument that in all the circumstances the claim should be struck out under CPR Part 3.4(2)(a) as it was ‘bound to fail’, and under CPR3.4(2)(b) as an abuse of the Court’s process of the kind recognised by the Court of Appeal in Jameel v Dow Jones & Co Inc. [2005] QB 946. He held that the claim for a declaration in the very generalised and wide terms pleaded by Mr Choudhrie would serve no useful purpose and as such that there was no prospect of the Court granting any such relief at trial. There was no clear and crystallised dispute between the parties, only a contingent and speculative dispute.

The Judge also rejected an attempt by Mr Choudhrie to amend his claim so as to expand the definition of his confidential information to include entirely new categories of business and financial information that had not been mentioned in his original complaint, holding that the proposed expanded claim suffered from the same defects as the original one.

In consequence the Judge struck out the entire claim and ordered Mr Choudhrie to pay Mrs Choudhrie’s legal costs, which the Court was told were over £235,000, as well as £118,000 on account of those costs. He dismissed Mr Choudhrie’s application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, holding that it had no real prospect of success.

Before turning to the substance of the application the Judge had addressed two subsidiary points that arose for consideration but which were not determinative of the outcome: (1) whether Mr Choudhrie could properly keep confidential the fact and timing of something described as ‘the October 2017 event’, and (2) whether Mr Choudhrie could seek a declaration in relation to information concerning the business or financial affairs of third parties, such as family companies or other family members, which was disclosed to his wife in the course of the marriage. The Judge found for Mrs Choudhrie on the first issue and Mr Choudhrie on the second.

The judgment can be downloaded from the ‘Files’ link below.  A 5RB case report will be published shortly.

5RB’s Justin Rushbrooke QC and Victoria Jolliffe (instructed by Payne Hicks Beach) represented Simrin Choudhrie