Category Archives: land law

‘Falling into error’: when crime meets constructive trusts

WARNING: It’s mostly a LAND LAW sort of post. Legal historians can look away now. … Normal pootling around in the plea rolls will resume soon…

I am shortly going to be signing off from my Land Law duties for a year devoted to Legal History research, but Parker v. FCA [2021] EWCA Crim 956, to which the marvels of Twitter alerted me recently, deserves a quick note.

It is an appeal relating to very dodgy financial and property dealings, which ends up at the confluence between crime and property law, with enough references to different sorts of constructive and resulting trusts to satisfy the deepest devotion to doctrinal principles. If that floats your boat, read the case to get all of the details (spoiler – after some detours round the houses, the constructive trust point is actually straightforward).

I suppose we do need to locate this a little more clearly in its legal context: it concerns a convicted ‘fraudster’ who had run dubious financial schemes, persuading people, including Parker, to hand over money to him, which they lost. In such cases, there are processes to attempt to recover the ‘proceeds of crime’ (Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) so that, as well as facing prison time, the offender cannot profit from his crime. Often this recovery will be complicated in terms of finding assets, but not necessarily legally complex. It does get more difficult if the money has been used to purchase real property, however, as in this case. Essentially, the case turned on whether there was a chance that Parker, one of the fraudster’s victims, had a chance of establishing that he had an interest in a particular property, as a result of the dealings between himself and the fraudster. This was ruled out, but the Court of Appeal found that to have been wrong. Parker could have had a ‘common intention constructive trust’, as featured in every Land Law student’s favourite cases, Stack v Dowden and Jones v. Kernott. Clearly this principle was not restricted to domestic contexts.

There are two connected things which struck me as interesting here: the fact that there appears to have been a lack of familiarity with the rules of property law in certain quarters, in earlier stages, and the way in which the CA dealt with what certainly appears to have been a lack of full understanding  of principles of trusts. This business of grabbing assets of fraudsters is tacked on to criminal proceedings, but it can easily – as here – demand a detour into property law. Then there is the matter of how the CA ought to respond when there has been an apparent error in application of the law, by a judge in a lower court, as seems to be the case here. The judgment in this case is certainly at the mild end of correction.

Lady Justice Andrews, at 10,  was at pains to say a comment about the judge’s errors were ‘not intended as a criticism of the experienced judge who heard this matter’, because one could not expect ‘expertise in the law of trusts’ from criminal judges. The mild expression of ‘falling into error’ is chosen – suggesting a bit of a fault-minimising gravitational pull. Nevertheless, the impression given here is that the mistakes were pretty basic – including dealing with possible property interests in an order which was not logical [65], not providing proper reasons to dismiss Parker’s claim of an equitable interest, not giving the principles on which the decision was made [68], despite being referred to the relevant trusts cases. The CA judgment sums up the position succinctly – it is neither new nor particularly difficult:

‘83. The issue at the heart of this appeal can be identified as follows: if A gives B money for the express purpose of using it only to purchase an identified property as an investment, A and B agree that A will have an interest in the property pro rata to his financial contribution, and the money is then used to buy the property, does A have a beneficial interest in the property? The answer is yes. It would be surprising if it were otherwise.’

(In addition, an argument was run at one point which ignored one of the basic pieces of legislation on property law – the Law of Property Act s. 53(2).[72]. I would not be impressed by that sort of muddle in a Land Law paper …)

Ideally, one would have hoped that lawyers, and judges, would keep abreast of the core areas of law, even if they do specialise in one particular aspect. Certainly, the fact that they will all have passed exams in property subjects at some stage ought at least to make them aware of the broad outlines of informal acquisition of property interests, so that they would be able to consult someone with more expertise, or look up the relevant chapters in a textbook. A little humility in recognising the limits to one’s own expertise does not seem too much to ask. Land Law/Trusts refresher courses for criminal lawyers, anyone?

 

GS

19/7/2021

Image: a gent falling – whether or not ‘into error’ … Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

Discourtesy about curtesy: land squabbles in Victorian ‘Brecknockshire’

Another set of documents on the list for the next National Archives trip involves a raid into the nineteenth century, to tie up some loose ends relating to tenancy by the curtesy (widower’s right to hold land after wife’s death, which, at common law, depended on the birth of a living child to the parents). (It may also involve a pleasant field-trip to Powys). I need to know more about the case of Jones v Ricketts (judgment: 5th May, 1862).[i]

This was a case with two main points, and seems to have drawn contemporary attention principally for the ‘other point’, i.e. the one not relating to curtesy. This concerned sale at an undervalue of an interest in land. It seems to me, though, that there are probably some interesting gleanings to be had, on attitudes to curtesy, and the big question of life, and how to prove it, in the case, and the papers relating to it, which seem to be available in the National Archives.[ii]

The case involved a farm. Its recent history was that, in 1850, one Catherine Jones had been the freeholder. She had then married Ricketts (the defendant in this case).  In August 1852, it was said that they had a child. (The report, in slightly judgey fashion, sniffs that ‘one child only’ was ‘born of the marriage’). This alleged live birth was disputed by the plaintiff, Jones. The plaintiff, according to the report ‘insisted [that the child] was not born alive’. The defendant, on the other hand, claimed to be tenant by curtesy by virtue of this birth, and said that the child was ‘born alive but died shortly after its birth’. It was not disputed that Catherine had not lived very much longer – dying in April 1853, nor that, at that time, the right to the remainder was with Thomas Jones, Catherine’s father.

Not long after his wife’s death, Ricketts bought Thomas Jones’s interest for £ 200, and it was conveyed to him (using the correct formalities: by deed, on 11th June, 1853. Clearly not too deep in grief to be unable sort out his property rights … I am rather taking against Mr Ricketts …)

The next relevant point with regard to the interests was in December 1859, when Thomas Jones died. He died intestate, and the plaintiff, Jones (a Jones in Wales – that’s going to be a fun search …) was his heir under the intestacy. Jones the Plaintiff then sued Ricketts, challenging his right as tenant by the curtesy (on the basis that there was never any live issue of the marriage), and alleging that the sale had been at a serious undervalue, so should be set aside.

On the undervalue point, the plaintiff stressed that, in 1853, Thomas Jones was ‘in reduced circumstances’ and was ‘living with the defendant in a dependent position’, and, furthermore had had no independent professional advice (all sounds a bit Barclays Bank v. O’Brien/undue influence, doesn’t it, Land Law fans?). He claimed that the freehold of the property, Brechfa-Isha, was worth at least £1000, and the reversion much more than £200. He also suggested that the £200 had not actually been paid. He asked that the deed conveying Brechfa-Isha to Ricketts ‘might be declared fraudulent and void, that the Plaintiff might be let into possession, and that the Defendant might account for the rents’.

There was, apparently, evidence for and against the live birth, though the court came down in favour of it. (This is where I am hoping the papers will give some more information as to just how the argument went, and what sort of proof was regarded as sufficient). Ricketts was tenant by the curtesy.

On the undervalue point, the court agreed with Jones the Plaintiff that the reversion had been undervalued – it was worth £238. There may be something of interest in the method of valuation of the land, and on the costs points, for those who like that sort of thing, but I am not sufficiently ‘up’ on either aspect to make any informed comment.  It does seem to have been the ‘sale at an undervalue’ aspect which got the attention of the press in Wales (including one of my favourite publications, The Merthyr Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Iron Districts of South Wales – sounds a jolly paper, doesn’t it?).[iii] The curtesy point seems to have been uncontroversial, which is interesting for the common narrative of dower and curtesy being rather irrelevant, and perceived as a silly hang-over from the past, at this point. The question of ascertaining whether there had been life, or not, in the unfortunate child of Catherine and her husband really does not seem to have grabbed people’s attention. It is a lesson, I suppose, in the distance there may be between the questions we find important, and those which engaged the interest and critical faculties of lawyers, and journalists, of the past.

There is some accessible evidence about the characters involved. The Welsh census of 1851, shows an entry for ‘Llandefalley, Breconshire’, (now Llandefalle) with a household including John Ricketts, aged 45, a farmer, Catherine Ricketts, 27, his wife, her father, Thomas Jones, widower, 62, labourer, plus four Ricketts sons and several servants, and a visiting elderly stocking-knitter.[iv] The name of the house is Trebarried, and it looks to have been a very substantial place.[v] There is also a record of Catherine’s burial, in April 1853, at the church in Llandefalle, in ‘Brecknockshire, Wales, Anglican Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1994 (p. 39).  I am yet to find a record of the child’s birth or burial – which is not to say it does not exist (just – lockdown). And there may be a cemetery tourism trip on the cards, to see if I can track down any of the adults involved (would the birth be mentioned on Catherine’s gravestone, if it exists, I wonder). Also not irrelevant to this plan is the fact that the relevant church in Llandefalle (St Matthew’s or St Maelog’s according to allegiance) has medieval paintings![vi] Now I’m definitely going to have to persuade somebody who can drive to take me there, when all this is over.

GS

13/3/2021

[i] Jones v Ricketts (1862) 31 Beavan 130; 54 E.R. 1087  Curtesy case, Brecon. investigate. S. C. 31 L. J. Ch. 753; 8 Jur. (N. S.) 1198 ; 10 W. E. 576.

[ii] Cause number: 1860 I/J96. Short title: Jones v Ricketts. Documents: Bill,… | The National Archives

[iii] ABERDARE.|1863-03-20|The Cardiff Times – Welsh Newspapers (library.wales)

OUTLINES OF THE HISTORY OF POLAND.|1863-03-21|The Merthyr Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Iron Districts of South Wales – Welsh Newspapers (library.wales)

[iv] subdistrict of Merthyr Cynog, 6b piece 2489, folio 669, p.1, household 1,

[v] Trebarried, Llandefalle | Coflein I have not managed to turn up ‘Brechfa Isha’ as a place name in the area – though we do see upper and lower Brechfa (Uchaf and Isaf – lit. superlatives, but would translate as comparatives) on this map: Brechfa-isaf – Recorded name – Historic Place Names (rcahmw.gov.uk) ‘Isha’ is, presumably a corruption of the latter.

[vi] Llandefalle | Felinfach Community Council St Maelog, Llandefalle © Philip Pankhurst :: Geograph Britain and Ireland

Discord, fraud and an attack of conscience? Some dodgy dealings with land in the fourteenth century 

As I prepare materials for modern Land Law teaching, it is interesting to think of the potential difficulties medieval people might have in guarding against losing their rights in land, in a world without the sort of registration and record-keeping which my students love hearing about so much …

The source: a 1339 King’s Bench plea roll. KB 27/315 m. 13d (AALT IMG 262)

The scene: mid-fourteenth century Cambridgeshire (and, as all pretentious reviews of films and books say, the land itself is a sort of character too. And the law. And the plea roll. Enough – on with the alleged facts …)

In Michaelmas 1338, jurors of various hundreds presented that John Allberd and his wife Nicolaa[i] held 20 acres of land in Hokyton, in right of Nicolaa, but there was discord between them, and Nicolaa went away from her husband and the area. [Alas, as our esteemed PM would say] John then died. [At this point, Nicolaa should have had the land back, or, if she had died, as seems to have been the case, then it should have gone to her heir, BUT… there was a conspiracy between an observant/nosy local and some ‘incomers’, from Norfolk, and even that London]: John son of John Riston of Hokyton, John Godefeld, citizen of London, and a certain Margaret of Norwich conspired together and in 1334, Margaret was passed off as Nicholaa (de Kelm, wife of John Allberd of Hokyton) and, acting as Nicolaa, Margaret had a false charter drawn up in favour of John son of John Riston, transferring the land to him, not to William de Kelm, nephew and heir of Nicolaa. John Riston entered by virtue of this false feoffment. [And he would have got away with it, if it hadn’t been for her meddlesome conscience]. Confessione ducta, she had gone along to the church of Hokyton and coughed to her misconduct. After this, William de Kelm had got the land as the result of a concord (no details), and the law was put on to the two male alleged conspirators.

The sheriff was ordered to bring the parties into court to hear about the misconduct. John Riston and John Godefeld pleaded not guilty (and things are still rumbling on, trying to get these two into court in 1347 – KB 27/348 m.32d (AALT IMG 1590) – I am yet to get to the end of the matter.

So what?

I know – just another unfinished case, but …

Well, you have to admire the cunning of such a plan, if it happened. It does rather point to a weakness in the system of land holding: identifying individuals who had not been seen for some time. Presumably it was plausible that one woman might be passed off as another, even in relatively close-knit areas with small populations.

I am also quite taken by the throwaway line that there was discord between the spouses and Nicolaa just exited the scene. Seems somewhat at odds with what we think we know about conjugal debts and the need to get a divorce a mensa et thoro before doing this. I suppose we would have to presume that women could leave if men were not bothered. As this case shows, though, there might be a cost to them, in terms of the risk of losing rights to the land they left behind.

(All rather far away from the bureaucracy and formality of modern Land Registration schemes, to which, I suppose, I had better return …)

GS

28/1/2021

 

[i] A moment of appreciation, please, for this fabulous medieval spelling, and I take my hat off to anyone who is able to resist pronouncing it pirate-style as NicholAAAAAAH!

Blood and Brothers

 

One of the matters I touch on in the forthcoming Women and Medieval Law book is the basis for the right to bring an appeal – an individual prosecution – in the medieval period. Appeals are important in a consideration of women and the common law, because they were a way that women could initiate a ‘criminal’ case, though they were shut out from participation in other methods – especially presentment/indictments. To cut a long story short, there are various statements which purport to set out accepted limitations on the matters women could appeal (most prominently mentioned as allowed are homicide of a husband and rape) but there are also many, many examples of women bringing other appeals; and a little study makes it apparent that the ideas about why women can ever bring appeals (in a system which prevents them from other routes of prosecution) are not at all clear. There are a number of different ideas floating about, including revenge, particular damage and likely physical proximity to the offence.

Because the book was about women, I did not get into a related issue: if a single man is killed, who has the right of appeal? This is an interesting one, partly in terms of the ‘answer’, but mainly in terms of the way arguments are made about it, so it deserves a short exploration here (no doubt to be updated as and when I find new cases on it).

At least in 14th and 15th C cases, a definite ‘pecking order’ was understood, as between the brothers or sons of a slain man, and somebody accused by the appeal of a younger brother could legitimately say that this was invalid, because this was the wrong person to be bringing the appeal: the right lay in the older brother.  In a case in 1314, for example, (KB27/218 Rex m. 10 (IMG 24)) from Worcestershire, a woman, Margery, wife of John I,  and John II, were accused by one William of killing his brother, Thomas. Margery was accused of killing Thomas by hitting him in the head with a stone, while John II held him by the throat. Apart from denying wrongdoing, Margery argued that she should not have to answer the appeal, because William had an older brother, John III , and it was this John III  who should have brought the appeal. It ‘naturally pertained’ to John III to prosecute it, and he was ‘nearer in blood etc.’  It seems to have been another point on which the appeal failed, but it was at least an outing for this idea about ‘the wrong brother’.

It is not proximity, but ‘worthiness’ of blood which is the justification given for preference of the elder over the younger brother in cases from the 1330s:  KB 27/310 Rex m. 6d (AALT IMG 333), KB 27/311 Rex m. 1d (AALT IMG 245)  and KB 27/312  m.3 (AALT IMG 290). (KB 27/311 Rex m. 1d (AALT IMG 245) features an argument as to whether the alleged elder brother exists (was inventing an elder brother a tactic which might, or buy some time?). The matter was raised in some later Year Book reports too. Seipp 1467.041 and 1468.007 – and Markham J was apparently concerned about whole blood and half blood relationships (only the former would do, so must be mentioned, tracing the blood of victim and prosecutor in the appeal).

An earlier fifteenth century case showed a difficulty which could arise for younger brothers – what if there was an older brother, but he was not interested in bringing an appeal, or not able to do so? Seipp 1412.047abr notes a case in which the older son of an allegedly murdered man was a monk, and the upshot seems to have been that there was nothing to be done – the younger son did not have a right to appeal here.

So what?

Well – as a younger sibling, I am not happy at the idea that the older sibling has ‘worthier blood’ (though would that work with women, or would they have some coparcenry-equivalent pattern, with any sister being as good as any other?).

Less self-centredly, it has got me thinking about blood, and how it figures in different areas of law (free/unfree status, bastardy, succession more generally, attainder and ‘corruption of the blood’, rape, assault and ‘drawing blood’ as a threshold or evidential requirement… probably more).  And how does ‘blood’ relate to ‘flesh’: how do lineal and matrimonial relationships interact one with another? Maybe one day this will all fall into place in my mind and end up as a paper on ‘The Law of Blood’. Interesting, anyway to try and work out what ideas about blood were present here. Clearly it would need to bring in theological and medical ideas too. But probably not vampires.

GS

22/1/2021

Detriment, conscience and the fine art of judicial shade

As the Land Law year rolls into co-ownership/constructive trust season, I was interested/irritated* (*delete as applicable) to see the appearance of another in the seemingly unending  parade of common intention constructive trusts cases: O’Neill v Holland [2020] EWCA Civ 1583. https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/1583.pdf

Sometimes these things make me wish that (ALERT: mostly gratuitous Legal History reference coming up, to justify inclusion in ostensibly LH-centric blog) the Statute of Uses had done a better job of stamping out the whole law-equity separation business, but never mind – they must be read and inwardly digested.

This was a Court of Appeal case, centred on (parts of) a case which had been dealt with by a District Judge, District Judge Obodai, and then, in a County Court, by HHJ Pelling. The ‘live’ part of the dispute centred around a house in Farnworth, Bolton (53 Worsley Road for those keen Land Law fans who want to enter it on their Constructive Trusts Cases Maps … well, there might be such people). Ms O’Neill wanted reaffirmation of an earlier holding that this property, held in the sole name of Mr Holland, was in fact held on trust for both of them, and that she had a 50% equitable interest. She got it.

The main point of Land Law interest was, I suppose, discussion of whether it would matter if there was not specific pleading of detrimental reliance, or a specific finding of it, in the circumstances that, as far as the CA was concerned, there was in fact evidence of detrimental reliance. Answer – no. Also, there was a bit of an attempt to expand the importance of ‘unconscionability’ as something which could make up for lack of (pleading of? or actual?) detrimental reliance. This did not work. Nevertheless, the CA seemed happy that there had been evidence of DR – with particular reference to not sorting out legal/equitable positions earlier on, as a result of a misrepresentation that Ms O’Neill would not have been able to obtain a mortgage. (A minor legal point – I confess I had to look up what an ‘equity of exoneration’ was – mentioned early on, at 12).

Apart from that, I found myself going back to a bit of an obsession – how judges in judge-only trials present their views of those who have given evidence before them. Clearly they are going to have to evaluate credibility, and prefer one version to the other, but there is quite a variation in how critical, or condemnatory they are prepared to be. I have mentioned this in previous posts. Here, the DJ went for it in a fairly strong way. As Henderson LJ put it, at para. 9, ‘It is fair to say that the District Judge was distinctly unimpressed by the evidence of these witnesses, and in particular by the evidence of Mr Holland whom she described on more than one occasion as “a stranger to the truth”.’ Also, at 49, Henderson LJ noted that Mr Holland had been held by the DJ to have given evidence which “beggared belief”. This view of the party’s honesty was thus stated, and repeated in the easily-available public judgment (and by those commenting on it …). Not for the first time, I do find myself wondering about what that must feel like – if the parties know.

On a related matter, when judges’ cases are appealed, there is an issue of the level of ‘shade’ to be ‘thrown’ on them (see how down with the kids I am!). Here, Henderson LJ, at 7.,  is a touch sniffy about the fact that the DJ’s judgment ‘[ran] to 50 pages and 184 paragraphs’ and suggested at 18 that she had ‘fallen into error’ by not using existing case law properly. At 46., he gives us ‘The relevant findings of the District Judge are contained in paragraphs 154 to 161 of her judgment. With respect to her, they could sometimes have been more clearly expressed and are not always entirely easy to follow.’ Relatively mild, I suppose. In relation to the decision in County Court, he says, at 60, ‘In my respectful opinion, Judge Pelling adopted too narrow a view of the District Judge’s findings of fact, and he was also wrong to take the view that detrimental reliance had not been pleaded sufficiently or at all by Ms O’Neill’ . Possibly slightly more ‘respectful’? I am not sure. It would certainly be interesting to consider the range of different ways of dealing with/ disagreeing with lower level decisions which are used by appeal courts, by whom, and in relation to whom. A project for somebody?

Finally, this touched on another of my obsessions – questioning gendered writing in legal documents. As another page on the blog makes clear, I am not in favour of the rather frequent use of ‘emasculation’ in legal discourse, to indicate weakening/ worsening. I wonder whether similar concerns apply to the description of things, including judgments, as ‘seminal’ (here, at 27, we have the ‘seminal speech’ of Lord Diplock in Gissing v Gissing [1971] AC 886.’ Does it need the sperm-related subtext? (Could a speech ever be ‘ovular’, and if not, why not?). Or can this usage be excused on the ground that the word is wider than human sperm, and takes in all sorts of ‘seeding’? A point to ponder.

GS

29/11/2020

 

 

Destructive trusts: a family fight over beneficial interests

[This is a modern Land Law comment – sorry legal history chums!]

Amin v Amin [2020] EWHC 2675 (Ch) is a recent constructive trusts case, a judgment by Nugee LJ on appeal from the London county court.

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2020/2675.pdf

It has some interesting aspects from the point of view of explanation of ‘the rules’ on common intention constructive trusts (nothing especially new, but nicely put) but also a good one to read to get an idea of the sorts of disputes which this body of law may be called upon to handle, and also issues of practical case-crafting  and handling of evidence, at different stages of proceedings.

The basic facts of the dispute were that Mrs Amin was sole legal owner of a house in London. She regarded herself as having the whole legal and equitable interest in it. Her husband, Mr Amin, and her sons, Raja and Zubaire, claimed that they were entitled to an equitable interest by way of a common intention constructive trust. (The dispute initially arose as a possession proceeding by Mrs Amin, and a counter-claim by Mr Amin and the sons for a declaration of their interest, and thus entitlement to stay). This way of proceeding meant that it was a virtual  ‘all or nothing’ case – Mrs Amin claimed everything, and Mr Amin and the sons counter-claimed 100% of the equitable interest.The county court judge decided in favour of Mr Amin and the sons – the house was held by Mrs Amin on trust for them, and she must transfer the legal title to them. She appealed.

The judgment, which has just appeared on BAILI, describes quite a number of property dealings within a large family, and is of considerable interest from a ‘law meets culture’ point of view. One fact to bear in mind, and which is of some relevance, is that the Amin parents were not officially married as far as English law was concerned. They had been through a religious form of marriage, the nikkah, but technically were not married. As Land Law students know, there is a fairly stark line between cases involving married (or once-married) couples and those who are, strictly, ‘cohabitants’. The Amins would surely not have seen themselves in the same bracket as those involved in informal living together situations, but in some ways, Land Law does (certainly a factor to consider in relation to suggestions for reform of cohabitation/property law). There is also some discussion of what may look to modern Land Law students like an (allegedly) unusual or old-fashioned financial relationship between the parties, in which Mr Amin ‘did not allow’ Mrs Amin to have her own bank account. I have often been told, when discussing cases like Burns v Burns that modern female cohabitants would not end up in such a dependent financial position. Perhaps we might reconsider that.

Nugee LJ provides a good summary of where he thinks the law is on common intention constructive trusts, and what has to be shown, by whom. It may be picked up as blurring some boundaries but (heretically, I know) I am less interested in that. FWIW, the judge had applied the Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53 test – using financial and other criteria to decide ‘what shares (if any) were intended’. (Land Law students will notice that this is drawing together two questions which we have tended to keep apart in teaching – the ‘is there an interest’ question, and the ‘if so, how much’ question). The case put by Mrs Amin’s lawyer in this appeal included a strong idea of it being wrong not to make separate, overt findings on all of the separate elements as to whether there a common intention at all, and if so what was its nature, and whether there was appropriate detrimental reliance. We have some further discussion on the (paper thin in my view- I am very skeptical about the idea of objective deduction in these cases) distinction between imputing and inferring intentions.  There is a nice quotable quote on the supposed separation of ‘is there a CICT’ and ‘how much of a share do people get?’: ‘I do not think the two stages can always be neatly distinguished’ [33] – the point is that the same evidence may well cover both bits: [34] ‘it seems to me to make no sense to try and make a sharp divide between evidence that enables an inference to be made as to their common intention that the beneficial interests should not follow the legal ownership, and evidence that enables an inference to be made as to what they intended those beneficial interests to be. Those questions are necessarily bound up together.’ Hackles will no doubt rise at this, but, really, it is a common dynamic in many areas of law, including Land Law, to move back and forth between ‘steppy’ tests and ‘holistic’ (cue whale music …) tests.

What I find more interesting and thought-provoking are the issues concerning the way in which the case was presented, and the evidence. Since this was an appeal, there were already limits on what could be done by way of going over the evidence, and deciding whether there was anything wrong with the initial decision. Greater limitations were imposed by a decision by Mrs Amin not to provide a transcript of oral evidence from the first hearing. Nugee LJ remarked on this more than once. He also highlighted the original judge’s doubts about Mrs Amin’s allegations of domestic abuse [8.11] though these were ‘not directly relevant to the proceedings’. Again, that might bear some exploration – what is relevant to proceedings is, to some extent, a matter of choice and perspective. Comment on the offences of false accounting of another witness were also mentioned (I do wonder whether people realise this sort of public and permanent comment will be made when they agree to be witnesses. I suppose they do).

I can see that, in such cases, judges do have to make comments on the credit-worthiness of witness/parties, but it is always a rather uncomfortable thing. I am sure that I would feel deeply insulted and mortified to see myself referred to as ‘[not having made] a good witness’ as was the case with Mrs Amin here, a description based on the fact that, in the initial judgment,

‘The Judge found her oral evidence to be confused and imprecise, and referred to her complete inability at times to recall any precise detail contained in her witness statement – something that happened so frequently that he formed the view that it was almost as if the statement had been written for her by someone else’.  [at 8]

It is also interesting to note the nature of the outcome (100% equity to Mr Amin – now deceased – and the sons) was the logical outcome of the way the case was put. Though this was portrayed as particularly harsh by Mrs Amin’s lawyer, both sides had gone for an ‘all or nothing’ approach, and neither had suggested a plan to share out the equitable interest, so, if Mrs Amin lost, this was always on the cards (though the practical effect could be less harsh, as she could seek indemnity from the beneficiaries on the mortgage payments which she, as legal owner, was still liable to pay).

So – an interesting case in a number of respects: legal, evidential, cultural. It is a bit out of the ordinary for such cases in dealing with a wider family group, whose relations are both personal and financial. It also leaves some untied ends relating to the position of the two Amin daughters, whose interests may well be affected. All in all, a messy situation meets an unsatisfactory area of law. Good luck with it, Law students of England and Wales.

A fine body of metaphors?

Lawyers and legal historians do love a body metaphor, don’t they – they are all over the place, from descriptions of marriage (one flesh, unity, man as head woman as body versions …) to Baker’s ‘The Law’s Two Bodies’, to all of those rather repulsive metaphors about precedent and childbirth (which somehow segues into horse breeding – you know the one I mean: Bagnall, Cowcher, Denning, Eves), and the even more dodgy ‘emasculation’ references (male bits = good; no male bits = weak and useless). I suppose it all goes back a long way; maybe calling a collection of law a ‘corpus’ did not help. Some interesting possible routes along the lines of Corpus Iuris > Corpus Christi > transubstantiation > it’s OK to make fanciful metaphors about bodies when discussing very definitely disembodied, world of the mind, types of things. Wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment to just … not. The campaign against body metaphors for things that are intellectual constructs starts here (once I have removed several ‘corpus’ references from chapter I’m currently working on …

A’ things hae an end … post-Christmas musing

Twelfth night is upon us, and although I have taken the decorations down, I am looking at a pile of still-to-be-gobbled Christmas puddings. This may explain why my mind has been turning on a pudding-related issue from a late-medieval legal treatise today.

Littleton’s Tenures is not an especially easy or exciting read, and I had been putting (or pudding?) off checking some bits of it for a project I’m working on. Finally made myself do it today, only to be sidetracked by Littleton Bk 3 c 2 ‘§ 267, a passage on something called ‘hotchpot’. Without getting too tedious, this is to do with ensuring fair shares of property to a group, by looking at assets together. To the extent that I had ever thought about the word, I suppose I would have seen a connection with the ‘hotpot’ produced in great quantities once upon a time by Coronation Street’s Betty Turpin. But Littleton sees it not as a stew, but as a metaphorical ‘puddyng’ in which we might expect to see a variety of ingredients. His description is a little reminiscent of some of those Great British Bake Off technical challenges – ‘for in this pudding [puddyng] is not commonly put one thing alone, but one thing with other things together’. But what things, Littleton, what things? Are we talking sweet or savoury – or one of those sweet v. meat horrors?

We need to know!

GS

5/1/2020

Yet another farming/proprietary estoppel case …

Once again, farming and family squabbles are to the fore in a recent proprietary estoppel case: just out (dropped?) on BAILI – Guest v. Guest [2019] EWHC 869 (Ch) https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2019/869.pdf

The case was heard in Bristol by HH Judge Russen. Spoiler – the claimant was found to have made out his case. Not massively surprising in terms of outcome, but it does reinforce some ideas I have about this fertile area for land law.

  1. I suspect that this comes from spending much of my time with my Legal History hat on, looking at much shorter old common law reports, but I am often a bit taken aback by the level of judicial comment about impressions of the character of parties and witnesses. No doubt it is important to the decision that the judge makes a choice as to which of two disagreeing parties is to be preferred, but how much further is it appropriate to go? Does it help future decisions? Do people appearing in court know the level of detail of such comments (and general dirty laundry airing – arguments, personal letters, accusations of laziness, forgery, being a poor farmer…) which will be included in these public reports. Aside from the excellent follow-up on Valerie Burns (Dawn Watkins (2013) Recovering the Lost Human Stories of Law: Finding Mrs Burns, Law and Humanities, 7:1, 68-90) I am not sure what work has been done in this area. I think it would be a nice project for somebody.
  2. Farmers. A great deal seems to emerge from these cases about the relationships between farmers, business, land law and family. This case includes some interesting assumptions about what should happen to farms over generations (preference for sons over daughter being in charge? Strong idea of a male head of the family? Perhaps some lingering idea of primogeniture, or at least it being the destiny of the eldest son to farm the land). There is some idea that the mysteries of proprietary estoppel are making their way around the farming world – with a reference to the claimant here knowing about Davies v. Davies, though his mis-spelling of ‘Proprietary Stopol’ (which the judge chooses to include) suggests word-of-mouth transmission of the concept. Another interesting project would be an investigation of knowledge of this doctrine, and the extent to which it may have affected conduct in family-run farms. The impression given by a number of these cases is that, while farmers have to juggle many schemes and regulations, and take advice on how to organise their business in order to take advantage of subsidies and tax breaks, they are not necessarily taking account of proprietary estoppel, particularly in its modern incarnation, post Thorner v. Major. This case suggests some awareness that it is important to have records of what is said (there are a number of secret recordings mentioned), so perhaps things are moving, but it also suggests that the defendants had a somewhat out of date reliance upon the idea that it would always be legitimate to change things by altering wills.

 

GS

18/4/2019

Regency Villas v Diamond Resorts [2018] UKSC 57 Easements in the Supreme Court: a few thoughts

Now, where were we? Sporting and recreational easements, some weird assumptions about general familiarity with golf courses …

Not one of its more earth-shattering judgments, and no more dodgy golf-focused worldviews in evidence, but the Supreme Court has now brought this long-running case to an end, to the delight of Land Law text book writers and law students studying this particular part of compulsory Land Law units.

The judgment came out (I refuse to use the slimily deferential ‘handed down’ and am not sufficiently down with the kids to say that it was ‘dropped’, despite the involvement of the so-called ‘Beyonce of the Law’ in the case …) in November 2018, and can be found (alongside summaries) via https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2017-0083.html

Law students will be delighted to learn that the SC did not come up with a unanimous view – I know you love it when they disagree and you have to get to grips with the differences! Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and  Lord Sumption agreed with Lord Briggs, whilst Lord Carnwath did not, and gave his views in a dissent at the end.

The overall result was that the appeal was dismissed: the argument that the recreational rights in question could not be easements did not find favour with the SC. It is, therefore clear that it will not be a sufficient challenge to a claimed easement to say ‘it can’t be an easement: it’s recreational’. So far, so unsurprising. The case also shows that the scope of allowable recreational easements is being stretched to include rights beyond walking and using the servient tenement as a garden, and also (at least on the facts of this case) to include the use of a wide array of facilities not in existence, perhaps not contemplated, at the time of grant.  It illustrates the lack of ‘teeth’ of the classic ‘requirement’ of accommodation of a dominant tenement and the ‘non-ouster’ idea which has arisen under the heading of ‘lying in grant’.

Much turns on the convoluted history of the land in question and on the wording of transfers. Lord Briggs gives a summary, (from [3] onwards).

In 1981, at the time of a key transfer, facilities in the alleged ST included:

  • golf course
  • outdoor heated swimming pool
  • three squash courts
  • two tennis courts
  • a restaurant, billiard/snooker room and TV room
  • gymnasium, including sauna and solarium
  • Italianate gardens
  • putting green
  • croquet lawn
  • outdoor jacuzzi/spa pool
  • ice/roller skating rink
  • platform tennis courts
  • a soft ball court (sic – softball?)
  • riding stables.

 

There were some difficulties and changes. In particular, the pool was closed and filled in. An indoor pool replaced the gymnasium. The putting green, croquet lawn, jacuzzi/spa pool and roller skating rink were closed and the riding stables demolished. The number of timeshare appartment was increased substantially. A dispute arose as to the rights of the timeshare owners to use the facilities without charge. The dispute took legal shape in the main issue of whether they had an easement or easements to use the facilities on the ‘ST’.

At first instance, the answer was that they did have easements. In the Court of Appeal, that was upheld in a general sense, though there was some variation in terms of the content of the easements: there was a net reduction, with the removal of rights to the new swimming pool and facilities in the basement of the mansion house. In the SC, the ‘servient owners’ sought a decision that none of the alleged rights were easements, and the ‘dominant owners’ wanted to hear that all of them were (i.e. that there were easements in relation to both ‘existing’ and ‘post-transfer’ facilities).

Lord Briggs’s account continued with a run through the familiar ‘rules’ as to which rights may be easements, referring to Re Ellenborough Park, and the source for its fourfold test, Cheshire’s textbook (that’s IMPACT for you, REF fans). Singled out for discussion are ‘accommodation’ and ‘ouster’. The idea that ‘accommodation’ is a useful criterion has never convinced me. Except in ‘land support’ cases, it really is a matter of value judgment. The strategy of many writers and judges is to say what sort of thing does not accommodate (usually with a reference to cricket grounds, about which we are all, naturally, well-informed: tiresome cultural assumptions) and to make not-terribly-helpful statements about the matter being one of facts, context etc. etc. Following this pattern, Lord Briggs [40] gives us some mention of the Oval and makes it clear that accommodation is only ‘in a sense’ a legal concept, and mostly a question of fact [43].

Having slightly ducked defining ‘accommodation’, he goes on to decide whether ‘recreational and sporting rights’ such as those in issue here, can be ruled out as not ‘accommodating’ (whatever that may mean) [44]. This is an important point: does it matter that a claimed right amounts to ‘an end in itself, rather than a means to an end (ie to the more enjoyable or full use of the dominant tenement)’. One would imagine that it might. But not so. Because the mode of tenure of the DT at a particular time is to be fed into the calculation of accommodation – so because these were (at the moment) timeshare appartments, the right to use sporting and recreational facilities on adjacent land (whatever they may be at any given time) accommodated them in such a way as to justify a permanent right. [53] No argument of proportionality, nor tails wagging dogs, was to defeat this [54]. It does seem a significant reduction in the utility of the ‘accommodation’ criterion – but then a fairly vacuous criterion can be given whatever meaning we desire. Perhaps people should be able to make whatever deal they wish, to burden their land to whatever extent they wish. If so, however, we should stop pretending that property principles impose definite limits.

Lord Briggs did not consider that the rights amounted to an ouster of the servient owner, depite the suggestion that the dominant owner might have ‘step in’ rights to come in and manage and maintain the facilities if the servient owner did not [62]. Nor did the argument that classing the rights in issue as easements would impose obligations on the servient owner, in the view of Lord Briggs, hold water [66].

He recognised that this was something of an extension to the concept of an easement, but thought that the law ought to allow it. One argument in favour was that the ‘common law should, as far as possible, accommodate itself to new types of property ownership and new ways of enjoying the use of land’ [76]. This, of course, means being open to intensification of the use of land. It is interesting to consider how such a ‘principle’ (which also underpins Making Land Work) interacts with ideas of public good, planning and environmental concerns. Secondly [77] he notes developments in other common law jurisdictions which have indeed allowed some extension to recreational easements (though not obviously involving the sort of intensive artificial and perhaps environmentally harmful management required to maintain a  golf course).

Part of the route to arriving at approval of these rights as easements involved going against the Court of Appeal’s approach of ‘unbundling’ the various rights and treating them as separate, depending on date of creation of the relevant facilities, amongst other criteria. Instead, Lord Briggs reverts [85] to the first instance policy of treating them as a bundle of rights over such facilities as exist on the ST at any given time. This avoids potential issues of futurity and perpetuity (at which we may breathe a sigh of relief) but does also introduce some new artificiality, in creating the idea of rights associated with a country club [89]. Is there an agreed list of such rights? Not being likely ever to be associated with such an organisation, I would not know, but would suggest that there might be arguments around the edges.

Lord Carnwath dissents from paragraph 94 onwards. He is concerned about the extent of the imposition on the ST: [95] …’An easement is a right to do something, or to prevent something, on another’s land; not to have something done… The intended enjoyment of the rights granted in this case, most obviously in the case of the golf course and swimming-pool, cannot be achieved without the active participation of the owner of those facilities in their provision, maintenance and management. … Thus the doing of something by the servient owner is an intrinsic part of the right claimed.’ He is not convinced that the authorities cited justify the extension required to make easements from the rights claimed [96]: ‘In effect what is claimed is not a simple property right, but permanent membership of a country club.’ He also makes light work of the ‘non-ouster’ conclusion [102] and expresses concern at the potential extent of ‘future’ rights over the ST [109-114]. All of this seems very fair comment to me.

Anyway, the decision has been made. The climate seems to be in favour of expansion of the sorts of rights which can be easements. It will be interesting to see how far this stretches. Does recreation have to be ‘active’? Could it in fact involve spectating at sporting events (and allow us to put an end to the tedious cricket examples …)? And why should somebody be allowed a right to play golf free of charge on the ST, but not be allowed an easement to have a lovely (and golfer-free) view over it? Is the positive/negative distinction above challenge, if ‘accommodation’ can be reduced to this feeble level?

12/1/2019

Disclaimer – these are my own musings, not legal advice, and subject to revision (except the negative views of cricket and golf, which will be with me until my last breath).