Those who followed the case will recall that in his divorce, Mr Prest argued his wealth was not his own and that his assets belonged to various companies. Nevertheless, he was ordered to pay a sum of £17.5 million with ongoing maintenance payments of almost £300,000 per annum to his ex-wife.
Having failed to meet these payments he is now the subject of a suspended prison sentence after his ex-wife applied to have him committed to jail.
Is this the end of the litigation road for Mr Prest? Is it time to pay up? Applying to have a former spouse committed to prison is a last resort. All other avenues had drawn a blank, and the threat of prison was a means of motivating Mr Prest to pay up.
The obvious action to recover ongoing maintenance is to seek an order for payments to be deducted at source from income, but in Mr Prest’s case, it is not an option because he has ultimate control over how much he pays himself.
The only other option to force him to make ongoing payments is to register the order with the magistrates. However, a man of Mr Prest’s resources will employ lawyers to delay this process, no doubt seeking a variation due to changes in his circumstances.
The other approach is to recover the arrears rather than seeking to force future payments. For that, Mrs Prest could have looked at alternative methods of enforcement including:
> Seeking a charge over his assets – unlikely to be successful because we already know that he owns no property in his name;
> Seeking an order requiring the court to freeze his bank accounts and order the bank to make a payment directly to her – again, unlikely to succeed because Mr Prest, knowing the process, will have ensured that he has no money in his own name;
> Seeking an order for the bailiff to seize his assets – unlikely to succeed as he will inevitably be able to show that the assets of value are owned by a third party.
Having exhausted these avenues, Mrs Prest has taken the option of seeking that he is subject to a term of imprisonment for breach of the court order.
It is unclear whether it will succeed. So far, Mr Prest’s approach has been to litigate. He may try to set aside the order made by the court or to appeal the decision. He may feel that the original order was an injustice to him, in which case he may feel that a term of imprisonment is the only way to show the strength of feeling. Either way, it can hardly be seen as justice.
Whether or not he serves the term of imprisonment will not necessarily secure the payment of the arrears due to Mrs Prest, and it will certainly not secure the future payments to which she is entitled under the terms of the original order.
Amanda Melton is a partner in the family team at IBB Solicitors