Court of Appeal estoppel success for our contentious probate team

Slee Blackwell partner, Naomi Ireson, was instructed by Mr Ely in the recently reported Court of Appeal case of Ely v Robson.

Background to the case

Mr Ely and Ms Robson were engaged in a relationship spanning 20 years. They had two children together but never married and owned properties in their own names. Their relationship ended in 2005 at which point Ms Robson claimed she had an interest in one half of Mr Ely’s house.

Mr Ely had purchased the house in his sole name and had been responsible for paying the mortgage throughout.

In compromise of the alleged claim, Mr Ely and Ms Robson reached a verbal agreement in 2007. They agreed that Ms Robson would vacate his property once her aunt and mother had died. Mr Ely would then hold 20% of the property on trust to be passed to Ms Robson on his death.

Mr Ely and Ms Robson consulted solicitors but naively, neither party instructed their solicitors to draw up a written settlement agreement. Mr Ely simply trusted Ms Robson to honour their agreement. However, in 2014 - following the death of her aunt and mother - Ms Robson refused to vacate the property. She claimed to have no knowledge of the verbal agreement. When Mr Ely tried to sell the property, Ms Robson refused to vacate, claiming once again that she had an interest in one half of the property.

The County Court decision

The case proceeded to trial before His Honour Judge Blair at Swindon County Court in September 2015.

Mr Ely was successful at trial and was awarded all of his legal cost against Ms Robson.

Ms Robson decided to appeal the judge’s ruling.

The Court of Appeal decision

The matter consequently proceeded to the Court of Appeal where it was heard by Lord Justice Kitchin and the President of the Queens Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Ms Robson’s application and agreed with the decision of His Honour Judge Blair. The Court of Appeal ordered that Ms Robson pay Mr Ely’s costs of the appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled that the parties had intended their agreement in 2007 to have been immediately binding. They also ruled that the parties had acted on the settlement agreement for six years and as such, it was not now possible for Ms Robson to seek to renege on that agreement.

After many years of having to live with Ms Robson under the same roof in a situation which Mr Ely would describe as being akin to North and South Korea, Mr Ely has now obtained an order requiring her to vacate imminently. Ms Robson is also faced with another court order for the legal costs associated with the appeal.

You can read the full judgement via this link. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/774.html

If you have a constructive trust or proprietary estoppel claim or defence which you would like to discuss with us, you can contact us on 0808 139 1599 for a free initial assessment. Alternatively you can email Naomi direct at naomi.ireson@sleeblackwell.co.uk