My First Trial

July 27, 2023

I was recently very privileged to be afforded the opportunity of attending a Trial at the High Court in London as part of my work at IDR Law. It was the first Trial I had attended in some time (given that my training contract took place mostly during the Covid-19 pandemic) where most court hearings and Trials were conducted remotely. This was also the first Trial where I was not just observing, but would be the acting ‘instructing solicitor’ in place of my colleague Louisa Wardle who had prepared the substantive case. This of course presented a new ‘first’ for me, but was a challenge I was looking forward to both in practical terms and to develop my existing professional experience.

We instructed Counsel being Holly Challenger from Parklane Plowden Chambers, who acted for our clients being the Second, Third and Eighth Defendants (the “Defendants”), at what was a five- day trial.

The trial involved the determination of two preliminary issues with regard to the main claim put forward by the Claimant Mrs Ramji, who was the wife of Mr Sugrim Ramji (the “Deceased”) who had passed away in January 2021. Mrs Ramji had brought a claim against the Deceased’s estate pursuant to the Inheritance (provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that the Deceased’s Will did not make adequate financial provision for her.

The two preliminary issues at trial concerned the determination of the Deceased’s interest in two properties, being:

1. 2 Montacute Road- which was registered in the sole name of the Deceased; and

2. 51 Ravensbourne Park Crescent- which was registered as tenants in common in the names of the Deceased, Mrs Ramji and Mrs Ramji’s granddaughter.

There is also a third property within the estate, being 4 Montacute Road, however the Deceased and Mrs Ramji owned this property as 50% tenants in common and so there was no dispute regarding the ownership of this property.

1. With regard to 2 Montacute Road Mrs Ramji contended that she had a 50% beneficial interest in the property, either by the fact of her marriage to Mr Ramji and/or upon a constructive trust.

2. With regard to 51 Ravensbourne Park Crescent our clients were asking the Court to set aside a lifetime transaction which took place in 2016, whereupon the Deceased and Mrs Ramji purported to transfer 51 Ravensbourne Park Crescent (their main residence) into the joint names of themselves and Mrs Ramji’s granddaughter, the 9th Defendant. The property had prior to 2016 been registered in the names of the Deceased and Mrs Ramji only. The Deceased did not obtain independent legal advice about the consequences of the transaction in 2016 and later sought legal advice in connection with it. This resulted in the Deceased severing the joint tenancy in 2019, meaning at the date of the Deceased’s death, the property was owned by the three of them as tenants in common in equal shares. The Defendants primary case was that the transfer had been procured through undue influence exerted over the Deceased by the Claimant and 9th Defendant and that he lacked knowledge and approval of the transaction. They also pleaded that the signature on the transfer document from 2016 was not the genuine signature of the Deceased.

The Judgment

With regard to 2 Montacute Road the Judge found that Mrs Ramji’s claim failed. The Claimant accepted during her evidence that the Deceased had purchased the property before he met Mrs Ramji, and that she had not contributed financially toward 2 Montacute Road. There was accordingly no agreement between the Deceased and Mrs Ramji at the time of the purchase of 2 Montacute Road, upon which a claim that a constructive trust had been established could be based. The Judge also found that there was no subsequent agreement that Mrs Ramji should have any interest in 2 Montacute Road following their meeting, or throughout their subsequent marriage. Further, the Judge found that that Mrs Ramji has suffered no detriment and so the constructive trust claim would also have failed on this basis. 2 Montacute Road was found to remain the sole name of the Deceased at the time of his death.

With regard to 51 Ravensbourne Park Crescent the Judge heard evidence from the Deceased’s Solicitor, the First Defendant, about his attendance on the Deceased in March 2019 regarding the transfer. The Judge found that the Deceased had been reliant on Mrs Ramji in relation to financial matters during their marriage and in doing day to day tasks, and accordingly their relationship was one of trust and confidence. The Judge found that the Deceased was vulnerable and therefore the transfer was a transaction calling for an explanation. There were additional issues with Mrs Ramji’s and her granddaughter’s evidence, in that they had been untruthful about the circumstances surrounding the transfer. The Judge had little doubt that the Deceased would not have signed the transfer if he had obtained independent legal advice prior to doing so.

The Judge applied the principles set out in Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Etridge (No 2) [2002] 2 AC 773 and held that the Transfer must be set aside based on presumed undue influence. The Judge found that Mrs Ramji had used her husband’s dependency on her to persuade him, improperly, to sign the transfer. There was also implication that the 9th Defendant was involved in this persuasion.
Whilst the Judge found that the Deceased did sign the transfer document and that this was properly witnessed, he ordered that the transfer be set aside on the basis of undue influence.

Furthermore, the Judge stated that even if he had been wrong about there being undue influence, applying the test in Re Beaney meant that due to the nature of the transaction, the Deceased was not capable of understanding the nature and effect of the transfer in any event.

Final comments

The Judgment was reserved at trial and so the waiting period between the final day of the trial and when we received the judgment was an apprehensive time. Despite knowing that you, your team and counsel have done all they could to present the best case on behalf of your clients, you are always nervous of how the evidence may play out in the witness box and how it may be considered by the Judge.
Being successful on both preliminary issues, especially the undue influence argument was a great win for both IDR, the clients and for Counsel- considering it is a notoriously difficult claim to prove. Mrs Ramji’s claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 continues.

The process of preparing for trial, attendance at Trial and awaiting the Judgment have been such valuable experiences for me. It was also invaluable to be in a situation where I needed to constantly adapt to changing circumstances, evidence and reactions throughout each day of the trial. It is so important to be able to react to changing circumstances and to reassure and advise your clients as the situation necessitates.


Georgina Coates, Solicitor