Duhaime's Law Dictionary


King's Proctor Definition:

An English office investigating and appearing in select family law cases.

Related Terms: Decree Nisi, Proctor, Queen's Proctor

The role of the public office of the King's Proctor was, where investigations warranted, show to a court of law why a decree nisi  of divorce should not be made absolute, or might otherwise intervene a divorce court as amicus curiae, in a marriage annulment application or otherwise.

In the 1904 edition of the American legal journal The Green Bag, the column London Legal Letter included this:

"According to the English procedure there must elapse an interval of six months between the decree nisi and the decree absolute. During this time the King's Proctor takes it upon himself to enquire into every undefended case and if he discovers that there has been any irregularity in the proceedings, or any want of good faith on the part of the petitioner, or any collusion between the parties, or that anything has been kept from the knowledge of the judge at the trial, he promptly intervenes, and opposes the making of the decree absolute. He does not wait for the respondent to make complaint, or for third parties to object. On his own initiative he puts the power of the government into operation to prevent imposition upon the court and the miscarriage of justice."

At times, the King's Proctor has had other lesser-known duties:

"The Procurator General is appointed by the Royal Warrant and acts under the direction of the Attorney General as solicitor for the Crown in matrimonial issues and, in time of war, in maritime causes of prize and prize bounty.

"Legend has it that William the Conqueror was the first Procurator General and from his time, if not before, all bastards' estates were considered the first prerogative of the Crown until 1926."1

Also referred to as the Queen's Proctor (and even His/Her Majesty's Procurator General), when the sitting English monarch is a woman.

The office of the Queen's Proctor is now merged with the office of the Treasury Solicitor of the United Kingdom which includes the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The National Archives of the English government offers this description of the position in their document #TS29 entitled HM Procurator General: Registers of Divorce Cases:

"In England and Wales suits for divorce and nullity are terminated in two stages: by a decree nisi which after an interval of six weeks may in general be made absolute. This interval, which is useful for a number of reasons, also enables the Queen's Proctor to make inquiries into such suits, if it is suspected that the decree nisi has been improperly obtained because, for example, material facts have not been brought to the notice of the court. Any person who has relevant information may supply this to the Queen's Proctor whose duty it is to enquire into the matter.

"The Queen's Proctor may take steps to show cause why a decree nisi should not be made absolute, or he may at an earlier stage of the proceedings and with the leave of the court intervene in the suit.

"The divorce court itself has power to refer cases to the Queen's Proctor for inquiry, and in suits where difficult points of law arise the court may ask for the assistance of the Queen's Proctor to present legal argument. This last procedure is most useful where a legal problem arises in an undefended suit and it may not be possible to obtain full legal argument in any other way."

This office was adopted by some other Commonwealth jurisdictions as they took with them the English common law. An official document of the Attorney General for Ontario (Canada) used these words in 1978:

"Her Majesty's Proctor: Pursuant to the Matrimonial Causes Act, the position of Her Majesty's Proctor was created to provide an independent officer to assist the Courts in divorce actions and other related matrimonial causes. Counsel within the Branch appear regularly in respect of applications made by a spouse in a divorce action to prevent the issuance of a decree absolute.

"The Courts also have called upon the Queen's Proctor for assistance in pending matrimonial matters.... In the fiscal year 1977/78, 117 Queen's Proctor matters were reviewed and counsel within the office actively dealt with 62 of these. "

As author Logue and Conradi described in their book The King's Speech, and in regards to the divorce in 1936 of Wallis Simpson so that she could marry King Edward VIII:

"Edward and Wallis were not yet free to marry, however. Under the divorce law of the time, the decree nisi could not be made absolute for six months - which meant that, formally speaking, she would be under the surveillance of an official known as the King's Proctor until 27 April 1937. If, during that period, she was discovered in compromising circumstances with any man she could be hauled back into court and, if the decision went against her, be forever unable to divorce her husband in an English court."

The Green Bag article op. cit., clearly demonstrated the difficulty if not the usefullness (or even homuor) in the sometimes exercise of this office, referring to a case known as Pollard v Pollard in which the husband was "entraped" to commit adultery".

"Mrs. Pollard obtained a divorce decree nisi from her husband on the ground of his cruelty and adultery. There was no defence.

"It came to the knowledge of the King's Proctor that the evidence against the husband had been obtained by a well-known detective agency called Slaters ....

"Although the wife was or had been, a waitress in a restaurant frequented by men in the business part of London ... the money paid to Slaters for procuring the evidence against the husband aggregated the enormous sum of thirty thousand dollars. This was supplied by a wealthy young man, a friend of the petitioning wife.

"A fresh detective was then put upon the quest, who, acting upon his instructions, took the husband, who was a dissipated, weak man to Jersey, got him intoxicated and, conducted him to a house of ill-fame."

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Divorce Blockade (1960)
  • Logue, Mark and Conradi, Peter, The King's Speech (London: Penguin Books, 2010), page 111.
  • London Legal Letter, 16 Green Bag 407 (1904)
  • NOTE 1: The Treasury Solicitor's Department, Our History, retrieved on June 21, 2013 from http://www.tsol.gov.uk/about_us/our_history.htm.

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