The Court of appeal's judgment in the recent case of Graham-York v York (2015) delivered a firm reminder that the purpose of the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 ("TLATA") was not to provide "redistributive justice".
Miss Graham-York lived with Mr York between 1976 until his death in 2009. From 1985 they lived together at a property registered in the sole name of Mr York.
After Mr York's death, the mortgagee issued possession proceedings in respect of the property.
Miss Graham-York joined the proceedings and brought a counterclaim alleging she had a beneficial interest in the property. She claimed she had a 50% interest that arose out of a constructive trust giving effect to the common intention of her and Mr York to own the property equally. She also claimed that since she was already in actual occupation when the mortgagee executed their charge, her interest was an overriding interest taking priority over the mortgage to which she was not a party.
At first instance, whilst the court did find that Miss Graham-York had a beneficial interest in the property it found this to be 25% of the value payable after deduction of the mortgage.
Miss Graham-York appealed. The Court of Appeal reviewed the trial judge's findings of fact and also previous authorities and came to the same conclusion as the trial judge. In giving the leading judgment, Lord Justice Tomlinson stated that in determining that Miss Graham-York had a 25% interest, the trial judge had directed herself properly, she had made no legal or analytical error and her decision did not fall outside the ambit of reasonable decision making – the parties had not owned their property jointly and had not had a relationship in which love and affection were at the forefront. Mr York had been abusive, controlling and threatening and mercenary considerations appeared to have been to the fore. In those circumstances it was not easy to infer that the parties had intended that their interests in the property should be equal. The court considered that the parties had clearly intended to share the beneficial interest but that it was impossible to divine a common intention as to the proportions in which it was to be shared. The court stated that it was essential to bear in mind that, in deciding what shares were fair, the court was not considered with redistributive justice - the fact that Miss Graham-York had endured years of abuse did not mean that the Court could allocate her an interest that right minded people might think amounted to appropriate compensation. The question was what amounted to a fair share having regard to the whole course of dealing between the couple in relation to the property.
The Court of Appeal held that the Judge had clearly focused on the relevant consideration, namely the extent of Miss Graham-York's financial and non-financial contributions – where the property had been purchased in the name of one party only, there was no presumed starting point of equality of interests nor any presumption that equality was the only fair solution.
Finally, the Court accepted that non-financial contributions would normally be proportionately greater the longer the cohabitation. However, that had to be set against Miss Graham-York's financial contributions which the trial judge had found to be small.
In all the circumstances, Miss Graham-York's appeal was dismissed.
This case is an important reminder that ultimately the Court's primary consideration is the conduct of the parties in relation to the property and not their relationship as a whole.
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