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    Tuesday
    Jan242012

    A triumph for Victorian morality

    Ashton v Pratt ... In the sack with Dick Pratt ... Meretricious sexual services renders contract void on public policy grounds ... Judge applies curious moral standard ... A whiff of hypocrisy ... Doubtful finding ... Artemus Jones reporting 

    Madison Ashton in a happier momentI have just read  Justice Paul Brereton edifying judgment in Ashton v Pratt (No 2) handed down last week. 

    It was thought along Phillip Street that Madison Ashton, the sometime mistress of deceased business tycoon Richard Pratt, might succeed, in part, in her $10 million claim for breach of contract.

    This was because it was thought that any woman who slept with Pratt deserved substantial financial recompense. 

    Brereton, however,  disappointed the pundits - who had not reckoned with His Honour's strongly held moral views.

    The judge dismissed Ms Ashton's claim in its entirety and ordered her to pay the defendant's costs (which amount to the best part of $1 million).

    A number of issues arose for determination by the judge, as follows:

    1. Did Pratt make the alleged promises? 
    2. Was there a binding contract?
    3. Was the defendant estopped from denying the claim?
    4. Had Ms Ashton compromised any claim that she may have?

    Brereton found that Pratt had made numerous promises to Ashton, notwithstanding that he disbelieved some of her evidence.

    The evidence as to conversations between the tycoon and his mistress provides a fascinating insight into orchestration of the extra mural trysts of the truly rich. 

    Needless to say, much of the crucial recollection of what seems incredibly stilted pillow-talk is about the crucial relationship between sex and money. For example: 

    Pratt: I will be happy if you could spend some of that money I'm giving you on your presentation. I want you to spend some money on haute couture .

    Ashton: It is very expensive. 

    Pratt: Money is not an issue for me. I have billions. The only thing I don't have in my life is somebody like you that can provide me with affection and love ... from the first time I met you I have loved you ... would you be happy with say $500,000.00 per year?

    Ashton: Yeah, that would be fantastic. 

    Pratt: (after Ashton had hugged, kissed and thanked him): I'm hungry. Let's eat. 

    Hardly Scott and Zelda. More like an scene from a rejected script for Dynasty

    Pratt: surrounded by rubbish

    The evidence disclosed that Pratt had showered Ashton with cash and gifts even though, as Brereton found, "she was at liberty to bestow her favors on others also" (including, apparently, Pratt's body guard).

    Tony Gray, a business associate of the carbboard box billionaire, whose duties included making payments to Pratt's mistresses, told Ashton that, "Richard will say anything and will do anything to have people like you in the sack".

    On the evidence that is something of an understatement. 

    As to whether a contract existed between Pratt and Ashton, the judge held that there was no intention to create a legally binding agreement. 

    More controversially - and unnecessarily - he then went on to hold that, if there was a binding contract, it was void on public policy grounds.

    Interestingly this issue was not raised by the parties, but by Brereton himself, who then sought submissions from the parties. 

    The public policy ground relied upon to find any contract that existed illegal and void was that it was "sexually immoral and/or prejudicial to the status of marriage".

    His Honor held that "a contract to provide meretricious sexual services is contrary to public policy and illegal".

    As a matter of law, this finding, based primarily on a number of 19th century cases, seems doubtful.

    Madison: not happyIt also gives rise to an odd result. Given the vast amounts of money that Pratt spent on indulging his sexual appetites outside his marriage, it seems hypocritical, to say the least, to void any contract that may have existed on the grounds of sexual immorality and prejudice to marriage.

    There's more than a faint whiff of Victorian moral hypocrisy in this part of the judgment. 

    Brereton rejected Ashton's contention that the defendant was estopped from denying that there was a binding agreement, again, in part, on the same public policy grounds. 

    He also found, less contentiously, that Ms Ashton had compromised any claim that she may have had for a payment of $100,000.00 in February 2005. 

    This is an interesting decision giving an insight into life at the top. 

    It also raises at least one interesting legal issue: should an arrangement be void if it involves the supply of "meretricious sexual services" and/or is prejudicial to marriage?

    It is the last issue which gives rise to an arguable appeal point - although given Brereton findings on other issues any appeal would face difficulties.

    It will also be interesting to see if the Pratt estate enforces the costs order against Ashton, specially as she has reportedly resumed her career as a high class call girl commanding $1,500.00 per hour. 

    In any event, I am full of renewed respect for captains of industry and for the institution of marriage. 

    Artemus Jones reporting, Dieppe.

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