Most of us have learnt a lot about ourselves and a good deal about others this year. If we didn’t realise it before, we now know that there are two ways of reacting to a crisis.
The first is to feel one’s own pain, which is perfectly natural. We’ve been programmed by nature to survive. And that is why our first instinct should be to protect ‘the home’.
The second, however, is to try and help others. Not just our family and friends, but people we’re never even going to meet. And gratifyingly it turns out that the world is a nicer place than I would have predicted.
This year has often been about realising who our friends really are, not only as individuals but as a country. And no star on that front has shone brighter than that of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Last May, however, our country was in dire straits and we saw a different side. We had all but run out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the National Health Service. So Sheikh Mohammed sent three planes carrying a personal gift of 60 tons of PPE to the NHS.
In the same month the Sheikh sent food and PPE to the amazing Felix Project in London, which continues to provide millions of healthy food packages to the destitute in the capital.
The Big Issue also received a donation of care products for their vendors who were struggling, as did the charity Family Action.
What is outstanding about the Sheikh’s support of our country is that there is nothing calculated about his generosity. Some might expect him to support 500 school children in three schools around Newmarket, because the failing schools are where his horses are based.
But since King Charles and Nell Gwynn made the town their bolthole, no other racehorse owner has stepped in with such an act of philanthropy. We shouldn’t take it for granted.
As for the Methodist chapel in Godolphin Cross, that he saved for the Cornish villagers near Helston: there was nothing parochial about that act of kindness. In desperation the villagers wrote to the Sheikh when the church was selling off the only public space in their community. And he bought it for them.
These examples merely scratch the surface of this man’s generosity. And having spent weeks trying to research this, I can assure you that he does not wear it on his sleeve. Quite the opposite, actually.
What has been strategic in the Sheikh’s life, however, is his support for horse racing in this country.
Phillip Freedman, whose Cliveden Stud bred Derby winner Reference Point, reminded me this week of the historical contribution Sheikh Mohammed has made.
“He [and his brothers] reversed a decline in the quality of British breeding and racing which had begun before the war. In the 1970’s he joined Robert Sangster and John Magnier buying stock in America to race in Europe.
“The imports reversed the decline in British and European breeding and racing; which is why our racing is now regarded as the best in the world. Until then the best potential stallions were getting exported to the USA and Japan.”
Sheikh Mohammed had the financial clout to adapt Sangster and Magnier’s strategy, expand it enormously and subsequently transform the bloodstock industry in this country.
It’s extraordinary that decades later, this man is still responsible for stabilising the British and Irish bloodstock markets. If Sheikh Mohammed had turned his back on the yearling sales in Newmarket this year, there would have been financial carnage.
Thousands of jobs could have been swept away. Hundreds of businesses gone to the wall. But even though he couldn’t be there in person, he stepped in having not played a shot at the French yearling sales.
To give an idea of the scale of his intervention, it has been estimated that at least 45 per cent of all the horses in training in Newmarket are funded from Dubai.
So as we stagger towards the exit of 2020, leaving Europe after years of acrimony without so much as a handshake, perhaps we should be more appreciative of our friends in the Middle East who have stood by us in these hard times?
The lawyer for royals and the ultra-rich on the pandemic boom in break-ups — and why she still believes in marriage
The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on many businesses, and for the cities where they operate. But for one activity in which London specialises — negotiating divorces for the rich and powerful — it has benefits. Demand is brisk for elite divorce lawyers, led by Fiona Shackleton, who has guided a long list of royalty, celebrities and the wealthy through marital break-ups.
“People have been bottled up with someone they cannot get away from, trying to homeschool their children, both trying to work. It is absolutely combustible, so yes, I’ve had a number of calls,” she says. “One man called me [on Zoom] from the back of his car with his seatbelt on, saying ‘I just can’t take it any more . . . This is the only place I can talk without being overheard.’ ”
The defining moment in Baroness Shackleton’s career came when she represented Prince Charles in his 1996 divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales, which projected her to the top of a small circle of divorce solicitors who cater to the wealthy, and charge between £700 and £1,200 an hour. She is personal solicitor to Prince William and Prince Harry (she is not involved in Meghan Markle’s breach of privacy lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday).
Shackleton has been photographed alongside many celebrity clients in the past three decades. The best-known tabloid incident came when Heather Mills, former wife of her client Sir Paul McCartney, angrily tipped a pitcher of water over Shackleton’s head in 2008, and she emerged from the court with wet hair. But she has rarely been interviewed during her pioneering career, preferring to retain her mystique.
Today, with a stern warning that she will not breach any client confidences, she has relented. She arrives in a scarlet raincoat at Estiatorio Milos, a Greek fish restaurant at the foot of Regent Street that until recently thronged with the city’s political and financial elite. The flash of colour is typical of one whose wardrobe was once dissected in the Daily Mail under the headline “Dressed to kill: how divorce lawyer to the stars . . . uses eccentric (and pricey) outfits as weapons.”
Despite her tenacity in winning multimillion divorce settlements (or limiting them for wealthier partners), she has been married for 35 years and is an evangelist for the benefits of matrimony. She often tells clients to remain together, she says later. “People can get quite cross when I say, ‘Have you been to therapy, have you thought of fixing this marriage? What’s the price of being able to read your children a bedtime story when you want?’ ”
It is clear on arrival that Shackleton is adept at getting her way. I had mentioned the need for quiet and I am shown to a corner table around which a ring of tables has been left empty. Shackleton soon joins me. She is a plain talker with a brisk manner, softened by blue-green eyes. A large heart-shaped brooch is pinned to her houndstooth dress.
Shackleton picked Milos, the UK outpost of a Montreal restaurant opened in 1979 by Costas Spiliadis, because of her fondness for Clio Georgiadis, the restaurant director. “I like the food and, more importantly, I wanted to support her because she has become a working mother, quite late on in her children’s development, and it’s tough.” She also thought of Le Caprice nearby, “but that’s shut now,” she adds sadly (the restaurant’s owner, Richard Caring, plans to reopen elsewhere).
We pick from the set menu: Greek salad with olives and feta cheese for her, followed by grilled organic salmon; salmon tartare and grilled sea bream with broccoli for me, plus fried potatoes. She orders sparkling water, and I neglect to suggest wine, a mistake we never remedy. Hand wipes sit on our linen napkins, the blue packets matching the menu, and we sanitise.
Shackleton mentions her 60th birthday dinner (shared with her elder daughter’s 28th) at Milos four years ago, and offers a forthright analogy: “Women are like leaseholds, we’re depreciating assets, and men are like freeholds and appreciate. But I don’t think there’s a point in lying about your age or moving skin around. It gets ridiculous when you’re a grandmother.” Her first grandchild was born in April.
Surely there are some benefits for women in seniority, I suggest. “There are pros and cons. There aren’t many pros,” she emphasises drily. She concedes one, after 40 years in practice: “The more years go by, the more you can predict. You see a pattern and what the next move will be. Like a game of tennis, you know where the ball will drop.”
She has had many inquiries lately, and compares the pandemic to the peak seasons for divorce: after summer holidays and Christmas. “When you’re socially distanced, you’re topping and tailing the day. On holiday, you’re all banged up together. Ditto at Christmas. You’re hermetically sealed, there’s a lot of eating and drinking, then comes the New Year’s resolution — bin the missus.”
One woman arrived at her office one Christmas to say she was going shopping. “She said, ‘You are going to do a divorce petition and I’m going to put it in a cracker. When we go to our in-laws for Christmas, I am going to pull it with my husband and make sure he gets it.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to be a party to it and it’s never going to work.’”
Our starters have come, but Georgiadis, having been alerted to the FT’s presence by Shackleton, is not content with serving only a modest lunch. Our waiter arrives with a gift of the special — a Jenga tower of fried courgette and aubergine, with kefalograviera cheese and tzatziki.
“You need to destroy the tower,” he explains.
“Oh, my goodness, thank you. That is very naughty, but nice,” Shackleton says.
Shackleton met her husband Ian while studying law at Exeter University, but their friendship deepened 11 years later when she visited Hong Kong, where he was serving in the army. “While he was out, the amah [housekeeper] told me, ‘You no trust him, he is naughty man. You number-three girl.’ I said, ‘I know the last two. Which one do you think is best?’ She said ‘Not you, you very untidy.’”
Her description of her marriage is affectionate but also coolly rational. “It works because we do enough apart and together, and he is a very good and decent person. I had the benefit of having done divorce law for quite a long time before I got married, so I could see who turns up in filing cabinets. Bottom line is, kind means everything.”
We have assailed the tower, but food keeps on piling up: our waiter brings us a free serving of yellowtail sashimi. My tartare is delicate, and when I ask about her salad, she summarises crisply: “It is absolutely delicious, extremely fresh tomatoes, very good olive oil, but I’ve never seen quite so much food on one table. We’ll have to pace ourselves.”
Shackleton funded a research project at Exeter University into educating children on relationships and on how to choose a partner after her father, a barrister and adviser to the Bank of England, died abruptly of a stroke. “I thought, what happens if you’re a child of five, you’re not with your father and you worry about your mother? You don’t have a childhood.”
If divorce is inevitable, she says she advises people to reach a settlement rather than fight in court. “A new client came to see me this morning and his case is really fascinating — there are a lot of judicial decisions we could test. I said, ‘You’re a successful businessman. You don’t want to spend time with me, trying to save a few millions. Give it to your wife and move on.’ I like to get people out of my office as quickly as possible.”
She does not need to “fee grind”, but her professional life was not always easy. She got a third-class degree at Exeter, thanks to dyslexia.
“I was absolutely hopeless at exams . . . My brain is different to other people’s. I see things that they don’t see, and don’t see things they do.”
After training at Herbert Smith, the City law firm, she spent several months as a chef before returning to law and later working for Farrer & Co, a firm that has acted for the royal family and royal estates. It was not a happy experience.
She was picked on at the firm, she recalls. “Women were bullied, and being a Jew, I was bullied. To be told, ‘We only got this client because we don’t employ a Jew in conveyancing, or ‘You’re not going to get equity because it’s better to have two children’ . . . I was bringing in much more work than anyone but I would leave at 5.30pm to put my daughters to bed. They terrorised me into thinking I wasn’t very good.”
(Farrer later responded: “The firm is saddened by Fiona’s comments. They do not reflect the firm of 20 years ago, nor do they bear any relation to the firm of today. Fiona was an equity partner and her departure had nothing whatsoever to do with her gender or her faith.”)
In 2001, Shackleton moved to Payne Hicks Beach, where she still practises.
Our main courses have come and we toy with them — both fish are tempting but our appetites are wilting. We turn to London’s allure as a divorce forum. English courts incline towards dividing any assets acquired during the marriage equally, although they take account of prenuptial agreements and in exceptional circumstances can consider “special contributions” made by a wealthier partner. If an oligarch’s wife is a UK resident, giving her the right to file for divorce here, it may be tempting.
Shackleton represented Tatiana Akhmedova, former wife of the Russian energy billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov, in the UK’s biggest divorce settlement in 2016 — Akhmedova was awarded £453m in court. She also acted this year for HRH Princess Haya, former wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, in a child custody case where he was found by the court to have been responsible for the abduction of two of his daughters from a previous marriage.
She cites the obstacles to moving to pick the best divorce venue. “If you try moving children without the agreement of a spouse or the courts, you may be done for abduction. I’ve been involved in a lot of abduction cases.”
“Princess Haya?” I venture.
“Princess Diana?” she asks, looking puzzled. I clarify.
“I was going to say, no suggestion that anyone abducted anyone else in that case,” she says. “But can I stop you right there? [Princess Haya] is a current case, so I can’t talk about it.”
I turn to the Akhmedova divorce instead and she regards me silently.
“That’s not current, is it?” I ask.
She nods, then softens a little. “If you look at that case, they had lived here for 20 years. It was not a case of [her] forum shopping, or putting a towel on the lounger and popping up in court a year later and saying, ‘Guess what, I’m divorcing you.’”
London’s strength is not the regime for splitting assets but the independence of its courts, she argues. “London is a good market because the courts are fair. You cannot buy a judge in England and people should be much more appreciative of them. Some take huge pay cuts to do public service in pretty ghastly conditions. It is not a lovely life.”
Still, she thinks judges have too much discretion, likening them to bouncers making visitors to a free club pay on leaving, depending on how much they danced. “I think people should know when they get into marriage what they are contracting. You know the contract for a washing machine.”
She backed a bill proposed by Baroness Deech in 2017 to make the financial framework clearer.
Is it hard constantly to deal with wealthy people who are used to giving orders, I ask. “It’s easier, because they can tell you to go away. You’re acting for someone who is used to being told he is wearing clothes even though he has nothing on. You say, ‘I am really sorry, this is how it is’ . . . They are [no longer] paying my mortgage or my school fees. If they tell me it is over, someone else will come along.”
But surely they must be reluctant to disclose their entire wealth?
“When you act for the rich and famous, you need to get them to reveal their hands pretty quickly so that we can get on to the next thing, which is sorting it all out. I tell them, ‘It is either quick torture or slow torture.’ They will be paying the wife’s lawyer to drag it out, so stick it on the table.”
I raise her royal clientele, expecting her to clam up again, but she replies after a pause: “You have not to forget their burdens. Most clients don’t have bodyguards round the clock, or know that if they put a foot wrong, it will end up everywhere. They can get another plumber, or another lawyer at the flick of a switch. You’re not in a tied cottage, so if you’re honest and not a toady, you can give good advice.”
The waiter comes for our unfinished plates. “You didn’t make much of an impression on your chips,” Shackleton notes. We try to refuse pudding but the waiter will not hear of it. “It’s on the set menu. Shall I make something, do you trust me?” he asks. “I always trust you, but small portions,” Shackleton replies. He returns with a large platter of karidopita (walnut cake) and baklava.
As we nibble, I ask whether she attaches as much importance to what she wears as the Mail claimed, or whether it is a sexist double standard.
“I love clothes,” she declares. “I like the theatre of costume and I spent quite a lot of my childhood being very fat, when nothing looked nice. So, wearing nice clothes, all bought in sales at good prices and made to fit in the personal shopping department of Selfridges, is a great bonus. It is like putting on your uniform, your battle kit.”
Over coffee, conversation turns to our families, and Shackleton reflects again on why she tells clients not to fight unnecessarily. “I say, ‘Look at it like this, do you hate your spouse more than you love your child?’ Children are children for quite a short time. Play a long game, be accommodating, love your child. It will be OK.”
Charles Geekie, QC, at 1GC Family Law chambers, acts for Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, the former wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Following an unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court by Sheikh Mohammed, the High Court has published a fact-finding judgment that said he had kidnapped two of his daughters.
What were the main issues in the case? Sheikh Mohammed applied to the High Court for the return of the two children of the couple to Dubai. Princess Haya resisted the application, alleging not only a campaign of harassment and intimidation of herself, but also a history of abducting two other daughters. Sheikh Mohammed argued that it was not necessary for the court to investigate the allegations. The court disagreed and a fact-finding trial took place.
What is the best decision you have taken? Agreeing, without a moment’s hesitation, to Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia’s [Princess Haya’s solicitor] suggestion that Sharon Segal should be my junior in this case. Sharon has an unparalleled command of detail and a superb tactical sense.
Who has inspired you? My father for his commitment that, before all else, do the right thing.
What is the oddest thing that has happened in your career? Sitting down to eat pizza with a teenage client who a few months before had been bed-bound and unable to take any solids — all the result of appalling parental abuse. As a legal team we had managed to help him see that there was a future.
What is the best advice you have received? Watching the example of Alison Ball, QC, preparing for trial; don’t turn over a page until you understand everything on it. And from a fine criminal advocate, John Coffey, QC: aim carefully — keep it short.
Which three qualities should a lawyer have? As a family lawyer, three senses: perspective, humour and good.
What law would you enact? The Domestic Abuse Act. The bill fell victim to parliamentary timetabling. It is back now and must be passed. Among many important measures, it will prevent alleged perpetrators from cross-examining their victims in the family court, with public funds for an advocate to be appointed.
How would you like to be remembered? For having at least some sense — see above.
UK Court Concludes They Were Abducted, Forced Back to Dubai
United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities should secure the freedom of two daughters of the ruler of Dubai, who a United Kingdom court found are being confined against their will, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 5, 2020, a UK family court published its ruling that it found the Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, arranged the abduction and forcible return of his daughters, Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 38, and Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, 35, to the UAE.
“Abducting family members abroad and continuing to confine them shows the extent to which UAE rulers behave as if they are unaccountable for their actions and above the law,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE authorities should immediately free Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, allow them to leave the UAE if they wish, investigate their abduction and allegations of torture, and bring those responsible to account.”
The UK High Court Family Division’s 34-page fact-finding ruling pertained to the decisions relating to the residence status and contact arrangements of the two young children of Sheikh Mohammed and his former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein of Jordan. Princess Haya fled with them to the UK in April 2019, and Sheikh Mohammed sought the children’s return at the UK high court in May.
The court concluded that Sheikh Mohammed, who is also the UAE prime minister, had previously orchestrated separate international abductions of his two adult daughters from a different marriage – Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa. The court said that he forcibly returned them to the UAE, and “continues to maintain a regime whereby both these two young women are deprived of their liberty.”
In response to Sheikh Mohammed’s petition for the return of his children at the UK High Court, Princess Haya stated that he had harassed and intimidated her, affecting her welfare and that of her two children, now ages 12 and 7. The judgment accepted Princess Haya’s allegations about Sheikh Mohammed’s campaign of harassment and intimidation against her.
They included that Sheikh Mohammed divorced Princess Haya without informing her in February 2019, that a helicopter pilot under instructions tried “at least to intimidate her if not actually to remove her” to a prison in Awir by helicopter in March 2019, arranged for guns to be left in her bedroom, threatened to seize their children, and published intimidating poems about her online. She also contended that Sheikh Mohammed’s abuses against Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa were relevant to any arrangements for Sheikh Mohammed to be in contact with Princess Haya’s children, including a risk of abduction.
The court found that Sheikha Shamsa had fled the Dubai family’s UK estate in Surrey in 2000, but that men who work for or assisted Sheikh Mohammed later captured her in Cambridge and forcibly returned her to Dubai, where she remains in captivity. The judgment details the UK Cambridgeshire police investigation of those events and notes that the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK refused the chief inspector’s request to interview potential witnesses in Dubai.
The court noted that the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds information relevant to that request but refused to disclose it to the High Court, contending that it would harm the UK’s relationship with the UAE.
The judgment detailed two unsuccessful attempts by Sheikha Latifa to flee the UAE. It states that after the first, in 2002, when she was stopped as she attempted to cross the border into Oman, her father imprisoned her in Dubai for over three years. In late February 2018, she attempted to flee by boat. But on March 4, 2018, Indian forces working in coordination with the UAE captured her at sea off the Indian coast and forcibly returned her and her companions to the UAE. She remains detained in Dubai in family accommodations, the court ruling says.
Shortly after her capture, a pre-recorded 40-minute video surfaced on social media in which Latifa states that if people are watching the video, “either I’m dead, or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.” In the video, Latifa recounts her previous escape attempt, her sister Shamsa’s continued confinement, and her reasons for fleeing. The judge also felt confident about the account Latifa gave of her detention following the first escape attempt. Latifa says in the video that during her imprisonment: “…It was constant torture, constant torture, even when they weren’t physically beating me up, they were torturing me.”
In May 2018, Human Rights Watch documented Latifa’s escape attempt and said that the authorities should reveal her whereabouts. Just hours before the publication of the BBC documentary Escape from Dubai on December 6, 2018 about Latifa’s escape attempt, the Dubai Ruler’s court issued a statement that Latifa was safe with her family and suggested that she had been kidnapped instead of trying to escape.
In late December 2018, the UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry published another statement with photos showing Latifa, saying that the photos served to rebut “false allegations” and to provide evidence that Latifa was living at home with her family. The High Court detailed Princess Haya’s interactions with Latifa in late 2019 and early 2020, including a report from Princess Haya that she had seen Latifa confined to a locked and gated house. The judge rejected the allegation by the UAE authorities that Latifa had been kidnapped by individuals from the UAE instead of attempting to escape.
“Given these findings, the UK and India should take steps to investigate how these acts may constitute crimes in their jurisdiction, and the wider international community should call for the release of the two sisters,” said Begum.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to liberty; freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to leave any country, including their own. By allowing the continued forced confinement of the two women and the lack of investigation into the abduction and allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, the UAE will also be in breach of its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention against Torture.
Women in the UAE face severe discrimination in law and practice. UAE’s family law requires a woman to obtain her male guardian’s consent to marry and for married women to “obey” their husbands. A woman may be considered disobedient if she works without her husband’s consent. She can lose her right to financial support if she has no “lawful excuse” when she refuses to have sex with her husband, refuses to travel abroad with him, “abandons” the home, or prohibits her husband from entering the home.
Men can unilaterally divorce their wives whereas women need to apply to a court for a divorce. Human Rights Watch has also documented police failure to properly investigate allegations of domestic violence in the UAE.
“Latifa and Shamsa’s plight has received international attention and media coverage, but there are many more women in the UAE who face domestic violence, forced confinement, and severe discrimination with nowhere to turn,” Begum said. “The UAE should take steps to end discrimination against women in law and practice and enact measures to protect women from violence.”