Pump Court Chambers

Alexander v Archibald & Archibald

News 29th June 2020

Simon Lane successfully represented the Respondents (Brenda and John Archibald) before Mr Justice Fancourt, in a decision that was handed down by the High Court today. The decision is a useful authority for where property has been placed into joint names on a particular basis/ agreement and the survivor refuses honour this on the death of the other legal owner.

The Respondents had each claimed a beneficial interest in the home purchased by their late mother in 1997 on the basis that there was an agreement that the legal title to the property would be transferred into the joint names of mother and their sister (the Appellant, Patsy Alexander) so that property would be transferred to them on the death of their mother.

Instead of honouring the agreement, the  Appellant denied that the property had been transferred into joint names with mother on that basis and sought to evict her brother from his home of the last 19 or so years, commencing possession proceedings in December 2016 on the basis that she was now the sole legal and beneficial owner of the property.

The possession proceedings had been stayed pending the outcome of the Respondents’ claims for beneficial interests in the property.

The matter came on for trial before His Honour Judge Gerald in the Chancery List at the County Court at Central London in April 2019, lasting 5 days. The trial judge made damning findings regarding the Appellant, with regards to her conduct, truthfulness and her credibility and found that it was unconscionable for the Appellant to deny the basis upon which the property had been transferred into joint names and therefore concluded that it was held on constructive trust for herself and the Respondents.

In spite of these damning findings, the Appellant applied for permission to appeal from the High Court, which was granted on an extremely narrow basis in March 2020.

Mr Justice Fancourt heard the full appeal remotely via Skype for Business on 17 June 2020, in a hearing that lasted a day. All bundles were prepared electronically in accordance with the current guidance.

Judgment was handed down on 26 June 2020 and a copy of the decision may be found here.

Mr Justice Fancourt dismissed the appeal, concluding that the decision in De Bruyne v De Bruyne [2010] EWCA Civ 519 applied.

The decision demonstrates the willingness of the Courts to uphold informal family arrangements regarding property when it would be unconscionable to do otherwise.

It is another useful case for those assisting clients who are left in occupation after one of the legal owners of a property has died.

These kind of cases represent a significant proportion of Simon’s practice, which straddles his Property work on the one hand and his Inheritance and Probate work on the other.

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