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Divorced and remarried recently? Then you could be committing accidental bigamy

Divorced and remarried recently? Then you could be committing accidental bigamy
If you have divorced and remarried in the last decade, we have some bad news for you: you might be illegally wed to two people. The High Court cancelled 21 legal separations on Thursday after disgraced former barrister Khalik Bhatoo was found to have filed paperwork with incorrect information and fraudulent signatures.

Bhatoo was disbarred in October 2006 for fraud after he forged a tenancy agreement in order to claim housing benefit in 2003. He was also found guilty on three counts of professional misconduct in 2005.

In all of the petitions seen before the court, at least one of the parties involved in divorce proceedings claimed to be resident at one of two addresses on West End Road, Southall. The court revealed that deeds associated with the two properties belong to women who also share the surname Bhatoo - believed to be family members of the disgraced barrister.

The separation cases in question occurred over a nine-year period, from 2006 to 2015, and were at various stages of completion. Some were only at the petition stage, while others had been finalised. Some 20 of the petitions were to dissolve marriages, while one was a civil partnership.

The court said that divorcee Asma Bi had been “most helpful” throughout the case, providing a statement detailing her experiences with her divorce proceedings as managed by Bhatoo.

Mrs Bi said that she had provided her address, which was not either of the properties on West End Road, although her divorce petition cited the Southall address. Her signature was also forged on the documents, with Bi telling the court that "the signature on the divorce petition does not appear to be my signature. I do not recall signing it.”

“I always sign in capital letters and the divorce petition is signed in lowercase. I attach a copy of my passport … and my photocard driving licence … to confirm my signature,” she stated.

A handwriting expert examined the documents and concluded that Bhatoo's writing appeared on both the applicant’s and the petitioner’s paperwork in at least nine of the 21 cases.

Due to the incorrect information and fraudulent content in the divorce petitions, the court ruled that the 21 separation requests were null and void, meaning that all parties involved in the 21 cases could be committing bigamy, which is illegal in the UK.

Although bigamy is an indictable offence, those involved can take advantage of a defence mechanism enshrined in the anti-bigamy law - the defence that they genuinely believed they were free to remarry.