Banks v Goodfellow

English Succession Law

Banks v Goodfellow
Image: ‘ Face-Madness’ by Kim Byungkwan

Intermittent delusions and moments of panic are obvious symptoms of repressed trauma, but in 1870, the diagnosis was quite different. When a testator suffering those very disturbances drafted his final will, the beneficiary passed soon afterwards, leaving their next-of-kin defending the right to inherit through intestacy when a claim of lunacy was used to challenge the validity of the will.

Known by many as a man of means, the deceased was prone to suffering immeasurable anxiety around a named individual, who even after his demise, was still considered by the testator to be haunting and molesting him in spirit as he had in life. This outlandish claim resulted in his being committed to the local lunatic asylum, before his eventual release and reintegration into the local community.

While his symptoms continued to a lesser degree, the testator was still regarded as somewhat insane by both the local doctor and parish clergyman, yet towards the end of his life he had made clear and concise arrangements with regard to the exactness of his will, the continued lease of owned property, and those he wished to attest to, and benefit from, his legacy.

Upon his death in 1865, the will was executed as per prior instructions, whereupon his niece and sole beneficiary passed two years later, with no prepared will and absent of children. At the point of litigation, the claimant argued that due to the testator’s susceptibility to psychological imbalances, the will was now invalid, and thus under the rules of intestacy, the estate was due to the testator’s heir, and not the beneficiary’s half-brother.

When first heard, the court offered the opinion of a jury, who having heard the facts, agreed that the will was, despite any inconsistencies in the testator’s mental health, valid and duly executable. With the court awarding so, the case was put before the Queen’s Bench, whereupon recent precedent was used to evaluate the contention raised.

As laid down in Smith v Tebbitt, the Court of Probate had previously ruled that:

“[A]ny degree of mental unsoundness, however slight, and however unconnected with the testamentary disposition in question, must be held fatal to the capacity of a testator.”

However in Greenwood v Greenwood, Lord Kenyon argued:

“If he had a power of summoning up his mind, so as to know what his property was, and who those persons were that then were the objects of his bounty, then he was competent to make his will.”

While in Cartwright v Cartwright, Sir William Wynne stipulated that:

“If a lunatic person, or one that is beside himself at some times, but not continually, makes his testament, and it is not known whether the same were made while he was of sound mind and memory or no, then, in case the testament be so conceived as thereby no argument of phrensy or folly can be gathered, it is to be presumed that the same was made during the time of his calm and clear intermissions…”

Adopting a supportive stance to those viewed above, Legrand du Saulle likewise wrote in ‘La Folie deviant les tribunaux’:

“[H]allucinations are not a sufficient obstacle to the power of making a will, if they have exercised no influence on the conduct of the testator, have not altered his natural affections, or prevented the fulfilment of his social and domestic duties…”

This left the Court under no illusions as to how succinctly the testator had both discussed and prepared his will in line with his financial circumstances and clarity of mind, and so despite the urgency of the appellant where imperfection of the mind would result in nullity, there was simply not enough evidence to undermine the logic of the deceased, and thus the will was upheld, while notions of jury misdirection quickly dismissed.

 

Crest Nicholson (Londinium) Ltd v Akaria Investments Ltd

English Contract Law

Crest Nicholson (Londinium) Ltd v Akaria Investments Ltd
‘The Junction’ by Elias Gayles

Law of contract operates in a world that extends well beyond the niceties of discourse, and in doing so, relies upon certainty of both intention and expression. In this appeal case, the confused and often assumptive approach to business between a property owner’s asset manager and developer, left the judges with no choice but to re-assess the contracting parties interpretations, in order to establish conclusive judgment.

As part of an ongoing development agreement, the two companies had outlined very specific terms to their arrangement, and which due to their complex nature, commanded considerate specificity. While the majority of the schedules to the contract were secure and without contention, the subject of rental values remained less certain, due to the poor wording (or at least absent text) within the respondent’s letter.

Much like the ‘elephant in the room’, the discussion around whether unoccupied properties were subject to an expected target rental figure or market-driven rates, was left improperly addressed, while in the letter from the respondents, there was also a tone of trying to set the terms of the contract. Clause 18.2.1 of the development agreement required that the developers were bound to seek open market occupation of the properties as soon as possible, and that the target rents (as defined in sch.4 of the agreement) set down by the owners were to be achieved where reasonable. In addition to this, clause 19.8.1 stated clearly that where no occupation occurred within an agreed period, the appellants would agree to pay a calculable sum, based upon the open market rent value at the time.

Unfortunately, during the exchange of letter and email, it was implied by the developer that the sum awarded would be based upon the pre-agreed target rent values and not, (as was expressed within the above clause) the open market value. By the appellant explaining that the proposed terms within the letter were ‘acceptable’, it was also argued that they had, by virtue of their response, agreed to be bound by the principle that the target rent values were those in effect, and not that of any (as yet undeterminable) open market rent rate.

After consideration of the assumptive wording of the letter, it was concluded within the Supreme Court that no reasonable person, including those with inside knowledge of the working arrangement, would have construed that such a statement was (i) expressed (ii) openly agreed to, and for those two reasons the appeal was upheld.

Parker v British Airways Board

English Property Law

Parker v British Airways Board
Image: ‘Concorde’ by Ivan Berryman

Note: To read about this case in greater depth, and with the benefit of full OSCOLA referencing, simply purchase a copy of ‘The Case Law Compendium: English & European Law’ at Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble (or go here for a full list of international outlets)


Under the breadth of property ownership, does the principle of occupier’s rights supersede the entitlement of an authentic finder, or is the common law more complex than first appears?

While waiting to catch a flight, a qualified guest of an airport lounge discovered an abandoned men’s gold bracelet on the seating area floor. By virtue of his own honesty, the respondent handed the jewellery to a member of staff, on the proviso that should the original owner not be found, the airline was to forward the item to his home address as  was provided.

After waiting almost a year, the appellants instead took it upon themselves to sell the bracelet, while directly profiting from the sale. Upon discovery, the respondent immediately sued for loss incurred from the deceit and conversion of assets. In the first hearing, the judge awarded in favour of the passenger, whereupon the airline appealed and the matter was given greater thought.

When assessing the imputation that occupiers of land are privy to greater powers of ownership to lost property, the distinctions were drawn in order to clarify where the exceptions to those assumptions lay. In common law, it has been largely agreed through the progression of case law, that in many familiar circumstances, the rights to ownership of property construed as abandoned or lost, would fall to the landowner. However, in this case the airline took no steps to draw notice to that right when considering the frequency and nature of transient visitors to their lounge. In contrast, the only provisions made for matters involving lost property entailed procedural guides for staff members and no more.

After careful evaluation of the two prevailing rights, and when comparing to the honest intentions of the passenger to an abject failure of the airline to express their position when handling lost property, the Appeal Court held that it would be unreasonable to deny the respondent his fundamental rights to ownership of property honestly acquired in the absence of the original owner.

Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd

English Family Law

Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd
Image: ‘Time Clock Houses’ by Sunita Khedekar

Note: To read about this case in greater depth, and with the benefit of full OSCOLA referencing, simply purchase a copy of ‘The Case Law Compendium: English & European Law’ at Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble (or go here for a full list of international outlets)


The phrase ‘family’ has seen a number of changes over the last century, and so it is that the common law of the United Kingdom is expected to accommodate cultural shifts and the cosmopolitain nature of intimate relationships, when reaching a fair and balanced decision.

In this appeal case, the relationship between a private tenant and potential successor was that of two men, and upon the death of the elder partner, it was found that despite their twenty-year history and the deeply caring bonds between them, the wording of the Housing Act 1988 prevented the surviving party from inheriting the assured tenancy, and thereby remaining in occupation of the home they had shared together.

Because of the widening of interpretation concerning the proximity required to uphold succession, it became possible to appeal to the original judgment, and while the appellant relied upon two sections of the legislation, namely (i) para.2(1) which placed importance on the spousal aspect of relationships, a section which further relied upon the assumption that the two parties were of opposite genders, and (ii) para.3, which extended the right to succeed where those in occupancy at the time of the other’s death could show such living arrangements over a minimum two-year period, while under the scope of ‘family’.

The issue presented to the judges was not one of spousal qualification, but rather agreement that despite the non-traditional relationship between the two men, there did exist an intimacy that by all accounts, could be construed as familial. By applying a number of past and recent precedents, it fell to the five judges to subjectively determine if the statute prescribed by Parliament, contained within it, an ability to embrace the post-modern image of the family unit, without the need for statutory review.

In its conclusion, and somewhat expectedly, there was a fine division of judicial opinion that thankfully provided grace to the appellant, and allowed him to enjoy the home shared with his partner in the years before and leading up to, his passing.

R (Watts) v Bedford Primary Care Trust and Secretary of State for Health

English Medical Law

R (Watts) v Bedford Primary Care Trust and Secretary of State for Health
‘Arthritic Hands’ by Tim Benson

Finally decided within the European Court Of Justice (COJ), this protracted and game-changing case determines well the principle of unreasonableness, whether individually or in this instance, as exercised through the actions (or inactions) of the National Health System (NHS) of Great Britain.

When diagnosed as having severe osteoarthritis in both hips, an elderly lady was duly assigned a slot in a typically lengthy waiting list, on the provision that her operation would at least begin inside a twelve-month period, and that no other adjustments could be made under the existing policy framework.

Clearly distressed and left in constant pain, the patient took it upon herself to request a permission form that could enable her to seek medical treatment in another EU Member State at cost to herself, before claiming back those costs under the umbrella of art.49 of the EC.

When authorisation for her application was refused on the grounds that the inherently free infrastructure of the NHS prevented such claims as a matter of course, the applicant went ahead and secured an operation in France regardless of the setback.

During the period between the successful operation and her application for authorisation, the patient’s condition worsened to the degree that her consultant elevated her need for surgery, an action that reduced the waiting time from twelve months to three to four months. Unfortunately, this still rendered her unable the receive the care (and ultimately adequate pain relief) she needed, and so her paid surgery went ahead two months before any provisional opening was made available to her in the UK.

When pursuing the right to seek judicial review in order to recoup her costs under her individual EU rights, the High Court dismissed her claim under constitutional grounds, while her subsequent appeal against such immediate objection escalated matters to the Appeal Court, who themselves referred it to the COJ.

There, after much scrutiny and comparison with similar EU cases, the Court held that any refund issued in respect of treatment sought in another Member State did not contravene s.152(5) of the EC, which provides that:

“Community action in the field of public health shall fully respect the responsibilities of the member states for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care.”

And furthermore, any excuse offered with regard to waiting times and the limitations of such healthcare provision failed to satisfy the individual rights offered under art.49 of the EC, while also holding that:

“[T]he special nature of certain services does not remove them from the ambit of the fundamental principle of free movement.”