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Posted 11 June 2018
by Martin Laver

Honesty is the Best Policy

Judges hammer.

We have all heard the phrase, “honesty is the best policy” however the parties to a recent Court case were clearly not familiar with it.

Following the death of their father, the Claimant and his three brothers held several properties in various legal shares as joint owners. The Claimant was also an employee of one of his father’s businesses in which two of his brothers were shareholders and directors. The Claimant began the process of serving notice to sever the joint tenancies in October 2012, which resulted in his brothers terminating his employment.  The Claimant issued an Employment Tribunal claim and settled for a considerable sum.

Following the settlement of the Claimant’s employment claim, a dispute arose regarding the extent of the Claimant’s interest in the properties, and in particular, the Claimant’s entitlement to a share in rental payments received from the properties over the years since their father died.

The Claimant argued that the properties were being held on trust for him (and his other brothers) and started a claim to seek a declaration as to his beneficial interest.

At trial, the judge concluded that without evidence to prove otherwise, the Claimant was entitled to a share in the properties.  However, the judge declined to make any award to the Claimant and was concerned with the evidence that had been given at trial.

In an extraordinary judgment, the judge commented of the Claimant:

“…I do not believe him on this or indeed any other material matter.”

The judge further remarked:

The first defendant gave evidence which, insofar as it was designed to help the second defendant, was, I am sure, untruthful.”

“On any view, the second defendant was egregiously dishonest…” and “in his evidence was…as heroically dishonest as he was in his every day life.”

“The third defendant gave evidence in a facetious manner, including winking at the claimant’s counsel at one stage, a manner which revealed to me that he regards telling the truth as simply no more than a lifestyle choice.”

The judge warned the parties that he intended to send a transcript of his judgement with the case papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions.  The Claimant appealed.

During the appeal hearing Mr Justice Turner criticised both the Claimant and the Defendants for their “utterly dishonest” evidence.  It was held that the judge at the first instance:

“…reached a conclusion which fully reflected what little objective fact he could salvage from the tangled web of deceit which the parties had so enthusiastically weaved when giving their evidence.”

The appeal was dismissed with Mr Justice Turner confirming the transcript and case papers would indeed be sent to the Director or Public Prosecutions.

This case should act as a clear reminder that the Court can and will refuse to exercise its discretion to grant relief if a Claimant lacks “clean hands”.

The judgment can be found here. If you require any assistance regarding a matter similar to this, then please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team of disputed wills solicitors on 01392 207 020.

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About the author

Martin Laver

Partner and Solicitor

Partner in the commercial litigation team specialising in disputed trusts and Wills