Posted on 8th March 2017
The appellant and her children had, since its purchase in 1988, exclusively occupied a house (‘the property’) that was registered in joint names of appellant’s father (‘the father’) and his second wife. The father visited the property but never stayed there and the father’s second wife, the respondent, had never visited the property.
The appellant had been actively involved in the preparatory steps relating to the purchase of the property (for example, the survey report had been addressed to her) but the father had been named as the sole purchaser in the contract and the property was registered in the joint names of the father and the respondent. The funds used to purchase the property had been provided by a loan to the father and the respondent from a bank, in France, and had been secured by a mortgage against their jointly-owned property in France. The the loan was repaid in eight annual instalments and the respondent stated in her witness statement that she and the father had repaid the loan over its term.
At trial, the appellant provided evidence to show that between 2001 to 2007 she had spent £5,000 on improvements to the property and produced evidence of loans of larger amounts that were stated to be for home improvements. She also paid the council tax, utility bills and service charges.
In 2010, the father died intestate and the respondent suggested, in a letter, that if the appellant gave up any entitlement under French inheritance law the respondent would gift the property to her. However, this was not pursued by the appellant.
In 2013, the respondent commenced proceedings for possession. The appellant defended the action and counterclaimed; seeking a declaration that she had the sole beneficial interest in the property and averred that, in any event, by virtue of a promise made by the father, she had a life interest in the property.
The respondent’s solicitors came off record in March 2014 and her claim was struck out for non-payment of Court fees. The matter, therefore, proceeded on the counterclaim only. The respondent filed a witness statement but did not attend the trial and was not represented.
At first instance Her Honour Judge Faber held that, following the passing of the father, the respondent held the legal title to the property on trust for the appellant and herself. Further the learned Judge ordered an account to be taken, at a hearing before a District Judge, to determine the parties’ beneficial interests.
The learned judge’s order treated the father’s beneficial interest as having passed to the appellant in equity but, as Lord Justice Richards noted, the learned judge did not explain how this was achieved. Although it appeared to be suggested in the the trial judge’s judgment that this resulted from the father’s death which Lord Justice Richards noted was a conclusion that was “not self-evident as a matter of legal analysis.”
In reaching her decision, the learned judge accepted as fact that the father had agreed to transfer the property to the appellant when he had repaid the the mortgage and when he thought she was ready. In view of the fact that the mortgage had been repaid in 1996, but the father had not transferred the property to the appellant, the learned judge inferred that he must have thought that she was not ready to take sole ownership of it. The learned judge also found that there was no evidence that father had informed the respondent of his wish to transfer the property to the appellant or that she had agreed to this course of action.
Further, the judge found that the fact that the property was registered in joint names was evidence that he “intended his wife to be the joint owner and never made known to her expressly or impliedly that his daughter was to be the sole owner.” The learned judge also found that the respondent’s letter, in 2010, was consistent with a belief that the respondent had a beneficial interest in the property.
The appellant appealed seeking an order that she had the sole beneficial interest.
On appeal, the appellant sought to advance the following arguments:
In a judgment delivered by Lord Justice Richards, with whom Lady Justice Gloster and Sir Stephen Tomlinson agreed, the Court of Appeal held that:
 The learned Judge also declared that the appellant had a life interest in the property and was entitled to occupation of it but there was no appeal of this declaration.
  1 AC 776
  UKHL 17
 For example, see Gallarotti v Sebastianelli  EWCA Civ 865
  1 AC 478