Parklane Plowden’s Holly Challenger Successfully Proves Undue Influence, Resulting in Lifetime Transaction Being Set Aside
Holly acted for the Second, Third and Eighth Defendants (“the Defendants”) at a five-day trial of two preliminary issues in the High Court in London in May 2023, before His Honour Judge Monty KC.
The main claim relates to the estate of Mr Sugrim Ramji (“the Deceased”). The Claimant, Mrs Ramji (who was the Deceased’s wife), has brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for further provision to be made for her from the estate.
The Deceased had interests in three properties at the date of his death:
- 4 Montacute Road – the Deceased and Mrs Ramji were the owners in law and in equity and each had a 50% interest. There was no dispute about the legal or beneficial ownership of 4 Montacute Road.
- 2 Montacute Road (“2 MR”) – this was registered in the Deceased’s sole name.
- 51 Ravensbourne Park Crescent (“51 RPC”) – this was registered in the names of the Deceased, Mrs Ramji, and Mrs Ramji’s granddaughter (“Lauren”).
There were two preliminary issues to be determined at trial, concerning the extent of the Deceased’s interest in two of the properties:
- As to 2 MR, Mrs Ramji claimed that she had a 50% beneficial interest, based upon the fact of her marriage to Mr Ramji, and/or upon a constructive trust.
- 51 RPC was originally registered in the names of the Deceased and Mrs Ramji. By a transfer dated 26 September 2016 (“the Transfer”), 51 RPC was transferred for nil consideration to the Deceased, Mrs Ramji and Lauren as joint tenants in law and equity (the joint tenancy was later severed in 2019). The Defendants sought to set aside the Transfer. They alleged that the signature on the TR1 which purported to be that of the Deceased, was not his signature. They also asserted undue influence (by Mrs Ramji and/or Lauren) and want of knowledge and approval.
The Judge found that the Claimant’s claim in respect of 2 MR failed; the Claimant accepted in her evidence that the Deceased had purchased the property prior to meeting her, thus there was no agreement between the parties at or before the time the property was purchased upon which a constructive trust could be based. The Judge also found that there was no subsequent agreement that the Claimant should have an interest in that property and that it, therefore, remained owned solely by the Deceased at the date of his death. In any event, the Claimant had suffered no detriment and so the constructive trust claim would have failed on that basis too. There was no basis upon which the Claimant could assert an interest in the property because it was a matrimonial asset.
In relation to 51 RPC, the Defendants alleged that the TR1 purportedly executed by the Claimant and the Deceased in 2016 was a forgery (in that the Deceased did not sign it), that it was not properly witnessed as a deed, that it was procured by undue influence, and/or that the Deceased did not have the requisite knowledge and approval. They, therefore, sought to set the Transfer aside.
The forgery claim failed; the Judge found that the Deceased signed the TR1 and that it was properly witnessed.
However, the Judge found that the Deceased had been reliant upon the Claimant in relation to financial matters and that the relationship between them was one of trust and confidence, in which the Deceased was vulnerable. It was further held that the Transfer was a transaction calling for an explanation and that no sufficient explanation had been given for it which could be justified objectively. The Judge found that Mrs Ramji and Lauren had given untruthful evidence about the circumstances surrounding the Transfer and stated that he had little doubt that had the Deceased obtained independent advice, he would not have signed the Transfer (see paragraph 144 of the judgment for a summary of the Judge’s conclusions).
Applying the principles as set out in Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Etridge (No 2)  2 AC 773, it was therefore held that TR1 must be set aside based on presumed undue influence. The Claimant had taken advantage of the Deceased’s dependency on her in relation to financial matters and for assistance in carrying out day-to-day tasks to persuade him, improperly, to sign the Transfer. The Judge also said that he thought Lauren was involved in persuading the Deceased to sign it.
The Judge further held that even if he was wrong about that, the Deceased did not have the high degree of understanding required, and thus lacked the requisite capacity to execute the Transfer.
A copy of the judgment can be found here.