In this Spotlight Profile, we are talking to Kyra Cornwall, Barrister at 1 Hare Court in London, England. Kyra specializes in high profile matrimonial matters and has extensive experience working on family law matters involving international jurisdictions including Cayman Islands, Singapore, France, Russia and Hong Kong.
Kyra, it is such a pleasure to speak with you today as I know you run a very busy practice in London, England as Barrister to many high-profile matrimonial clients. Kyra, this is your first spotlight profile here on Hong Kong Divorce, can you tell our readers more about yourself and the work that you do in the matrimonial arena in London?
Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be involved!
I am a Barrister practising at 1 Hare Court, the leading matrimonial finance set in England and Wales. We are based in the heart of legal London, in the middle of the Temple, and specialise in matrimonial finance cases. In my ten years at the Bar, I have developed a practice involving lots of international families, both representing them directly in England and Wales, and offering English advice where proceedings are taking place abroad.
Your practice extends to international jurisdictions. Can you tell us the link that you have to matrimonial matters here in Hong Kong and your experience working on Hong Kong cases?
In 2017, I was awarded the Pegasus Scholarship by the Inns of Court which enabled me to spend that summer in Hong Kong working firstly at Withers then at Temple Chambers (with Richard Todd QC) and finally sitting in on cases at the Family Court with Her Honour Judge Melloy. The purpose of the scholarship is to enable lawyers to build their international awareness and forge links abroad. I had a particular interest in Hong Kong as my father’s family are from Hong Kong originally, and so had been looking for a way to develop international links on a professional basis as well as personally. That summer certainly gave me the ability to do both of those things.
Over the course of my stay, I was fortunate to meet a huge number of family law practitioners and was given a real insight into a legal system that is so similar to that in which I practise in the UK. Since returning to the UK, I have maintained a Hong Kong focus to my work from London, continuing to advise on cases which include connections to Hong Kong.
Have you noticed any changes or differences in your practice as a result of Covid-19 and the ongoing pandemic?
Absolutely. When the pandemic hit in London, many practitioners were still working from hard copy papers and almost all court hearings were in person. Suddenly the courts were closed and the legal world had to take a giant leap into the 21st century. Within a matter of weeks, papers were being sent electronically and court hearings were taking place via video platform. Although there were some teething problems at the outset, in my view this has been transformative for life as a lawyer and at the Bar particularly.
Prior to the pandemic, a significant portion of my life was spent travelling to Court, waiting around at Court and travelling home again. Being able to operate remotely has virtually removed this, enabling people to work more efficiently and improving work life balance for practitioners.
Beyond this, for those cases involving parties based internationally or where a party has to travel a lot for work, the advent of video platform hearings has also made it much easier for them to be involved without disrupting their working lives so much.
That’s not to say that there have not been problems: there have been technical glitches along the way and there are difficulties when a party does not have more than one screen available to them, but for the most part I think that the pandemic has forced the legal profession to take positive steps that I hope will remain in place moving forward.
One of your areas of specialty is marital agreements. Hong Kong follows the United Kingdom landmark decision as seen in Radmacher v Granatino  UKSC 42. Do you see the law evolving or changing in the future with respect to marital agreements in the UK?
Since the landmark decision in Radmacher, the courts have had to grapple with the questions of whether the parties had all the information material to their decision(s) to enter into a marital agreement, whether each party intended that the agreement should govern the financial consequences of the marriage ending and whether in all the circumstances this is fair.
Whilst the 2010 decision was followed by the Law Commission report in 2014 which suggested that marital agreements should in essence be upgraded to “Qualifying Nuptial Agreements” – i.e. enforceable contracts – in an attempt to provide more certainty to parties, this has not been made into law.
The current approach in the English courts is to focus on the circumstances in which agreements were reached and where they leave the parties in real terms financially, based on all the circumstances of the case. The recent reported decisions demonstrate a reluctance for the court to uphold agreements which are unfair or which do not meet needs objectively (see for example Brack v Brack  EWCA Civ 2862, Ipekci v McConnell  EWFC 19, IU v OS  EWFC 98). The existence of an agreement does not automatically drive a case into needs territory only; it is one of the factors that weighs in the balance. Equally, a lack of legal advice does not automatically render an agreement unfair (see for example Versteegh v Versteegh  EWCA Civ 1050).
That said, anecdotally I would say that a marital agreement that, for example, excludes sharing or fixes provision, does often have the impact of reducing a party’s claim where otherwise they might achieve more.
In Hong Kong, we see many expatriate couples with questions on whether to file in Hong Kong versus their home countries. What advice would you give to those individuals who have a connection to both Hong Kong and England & Wales in terms of jurisdiction in regards to their divorce?
If I were to meet with a new client who had the option of getting divorced in both Hong Kong and England & Wales, I would suggest that they take local advice in both jurisdictions before making a decision. Where the outcome is likely to be similar (as between Hong Kong and England & Wales), it is likely to come down to questions of practicality.
There is one change coming in England & Wales however that may benefit one or both parties. No fault divorce is due to be brought in from April 2022 (i.e. being able to get divorced without having to plead any allegations of blame). This will hopefully help to drive down tensions and therefore reduce some of the distress that divorce proceedings can bring.
There’s sometimes an ongoing belief that England is a better forum to divorce because of the higher potential in terms of ancillary relief (finances) and costs. Is this true or is this simply a misconception?
Both England & Wales and Hong Kong adopt bespoke outcomes on divorce, applying the concept of sharing, and the homemaker is seen to contribute just as much as the breadwinner. On that basis, assets in both jurisdictions are divided on a sharing basis if needs are met. Yes, the numbers are big, but England & Wales and Hong Kong are broadly similar in their approach to outcome.
To that extent, whilst London has the reputation of being generous on divorce, I think that is more due to the system that we apply (i.e. very similar to that of Hong Kong) as compared to the rest of the world. Broadly the same principles apply between England & Wales and Hong Kong when dividing assets and awarding maintenance, but other factors will play into needs-driven outcomes, such as the cost of living, parties’ abilities to work (e.g. visa issues), and access to the courts (Hong Kong grants jurisdiction where parties have a “substantial connection” at the date of petition/application, England & Wales operates a more stringent test).
This was such an interesting chat Kyra, thank you so much for your time. We look forward to having you on board again to discuss other interesting and key topics in the area of matrimonial law!
Kyra is a barrister at 1 Hare Court in London, England. Kyra specializes in financial remedies, claims after foreign divorce, nuptial agreements and jurisdiction disputes. She is a member of the Family Law Barrister Association (FLBA) and the Inner Temple.
Kyra is described as a “a star in the marking, super clever, slick, elegant and professional” and “a smiling assassin” by both clients and peers.
Kyra’s practice is concentrated on high profile and international matrimonial cases, specifically issues dealing with forum disputes, cases with international trust and company structures, cases with complex issues of enforcement, issues of privilege and cases involving the enforcement of nuptial agreements. She regularly represents husbands and wives in high value and prominent matters, both led and alone in the High Court. She advises clients nationally and internationally, from jurisdictions including the Cayman Islands, Singapore and France, and has a particular interest in cases with links to Hong Kong, having undertaken the Pegasus Scholarship there in 2017.
Kyra is a contributing author of Rayden and Jackson on Divorce and Matrimonial Matters, a comprehensive and key guide for family law practitioners
For more information about Kyra and her practice, you can visit her Chambers’ website: https://www.1hc.com/people/kyra-cornwall/