Hughes v Pritchard and Others  EWHC 1382 (Ch)12 June 2023
Published: 31/07/2023 14:37
HHJ Keyser KC. Propriety estoppel case. Cattle farmer Evan Hughes died leaving three children, the claimant Gareth Hughes, the defendant Carys Richards, and another child, Elfed, whose widow Gwen Hughes was the second defendant. The remaining defendants were Elfed and Gwen’s children, Stephen, Siôn and Geraint.
At  EWHC 1580 (Ch) HHJ Jarman held that Evan’s 2016 Will was not valid for lack of testamentary capacity and admitted a 2005 Will that left most of the assets to Elfed. The Court of Appeal at  EWCA Civ 386 reversed and held the 2016 Will to be valid.
Under it, Evan left a bungalow and a cottage to Carys; 58 acres of farmland (Yr Efail) to Gareth; and 79 acres of farmland on trust for Gwen for life and thereafter in equal shares to her children. The residuary estate including shares in a family company were left to Evan’s 8 grandchildren in equal proportions.
HHJ Jarman had held that representations were made by Evan to Elfed that the farmland at Yr Efail would be left to Elfed, and further held that in reliance on this Elfed tended the stock and land unpaid alongside his own farming business. He paid workers to work on Evan’s land and he built a bridge between their respective farmlands at considerable expense. The CA considered, however, that HHJ Jarman had dealt insufficiently with the benefits to Elfed of what it called the ‘symbiotic relationship’ in which Evan and Elfed had each had their own animals and land but farmed as a single unit. The judge had also dealt inadequately with remedy, presumably because his findings on estoppel were moot given his findings about the 2005 Will.
The CA remitted the issues of detriment and remedy: this is the judgment on those.
On whether estoppel survived the death of the promisee:
- The CA held that this was raised too late to be argued. At the present hearing, it was common ground that the death of the promisee was not in principle a bar to relief but may be relevant to unconscionability and remedy.
On detriment (Gillett v Holt  EWHC 1580 (Ch) considered):
- Elfed’s success was due in large measure to the relationship with his father’s farm and it was this symbiosis that enabled Elfed to expand his own business. He benefited from his father’s experience and his ability to use his father’s farm rent-free. During later years Elfed spent more on things that were of mutual benefit; however, he was partly motivated by an inner compulsion. Taking matters in the round, there was no detriment to Elfed.
- Moreover, Evan had made earlier life dispositions to Elfed of a farmhouse and farmland, which exceeded the gifts he made at the same time to Carys and Gareth (providing them with plots of land on which they could, at cost price, build homes). He may well have considered this disparity when deciding how to fairly dispose of his estate on death; and have considered that he had by the lifetime disposition to Elfed have made good on his promise.
- His representations to Elfed were one part of his intentions for all three children: that Elfed would farm and the children would have the company. That the company failed was relevant to why the 2016 Will made greater provision for Carys and Gareth. The failure had implications for Evan’s known desire to make substantial and broadly fair provision for all three of his children.
On unconscionability (Cobbe v Yeoman’s Row Management Ltd  UKHL 55 and Guest v Guest  UKSC 27 considered):
- Elfed’s death was significant to the issue of unconscionability. This was not the ‘soul-destroying, gut-wrenching realisation of being deprived of which Lord Briggs spoke in Guest as the death of the promisee Elfed meant he was not able to suffered the harm of being deprived.
- All the circumstances including the promises and reliance, the substantial benefits to Elfed of the symbiotic relationship, the failure of the company, Elfed’s death, and the terms of the 2016 Will meant there was no unconscionability. The issue of remedy did not arise.