In the case of Relfo Ltd (in liquidation) v Bhimji Velji Jadva Varsani, the defendant contested the service of particulars of claim where service had been effected at a house he owned in London. The defendant made an application to have service of the proceedings set aside on the basis that although he owned the London property, which was occupied by his wife and children, this was not his usual place of residence and service should therefore be invalid.
The defendant was sued in Singapore by the Inland Revenue for UK tax liabilities. In affidavits submitted to the court by the defendant, he stated that he was a resident of the UK and gave the address of his house in London as his present place of abode. He also contended that proceedings should have been issued in the UK because of the fact that he did not have the requisite connection with Singapore. The defendant averred, among other things, that the trial of the matter in Singapore would also amount to an impermissible enforcement of the UK’s revenue laws. The Singaporean court accepted his defence and for public policy reasons refused to enforce the revenue debts of a foreign country.
Fresh proceedings were subsequently issued in the UK at the defendant’s family’s home in London. Upon receipt of proceedings the defendant changed his position, arguing that service was invalid due to the fact that he was not a resident of the UK but of Nairobi which was where he spent most of his time and carried out his business. The defendant only stayed at his London property once a year when he visited his wife and children and sought to have service set aside on that basis. He argued that the lack of time spent at that address meant that it could not be considered his residence at all.
In deciding whether the London property could be considered the defendant’s usual or last known address, the court focussed primarily on the quality of the use of the London property, over and above the proportion of time spent there. The court considered the fact that the defendant’s London property was his wife and children’s only home to be of particular importance. The defendant was not estranged from his family and returned to the family home where he used it as his own home. The Judge showed little concern for the fact that the defendant only visited this home on average once a year.
This case was distinguished from the Russian oligarch cases in which the wealthy Russian businessmen Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich were not found to be residents of the UK. In both of those cases it was found that the use of their residences in the UK was more akin to that of a private hotel than a home. Although Deripaska spent 20 to 30 nights a year in the UK he spent single nights at a time when attending business meetings, as did Abramovich, whereas the defendant spent the whole duration of his time when in the UK at his London house.
Another distinguishing feature was that both Deripaska and Abramovich owned substantial properties in several different countries, unlike the defendant. Their respective families were not settled here whereas the defendant’s house in the UK was his family’s settled and only place of residence. For those reasons no reasonable comparisons could be drawn between the Russian oligarchs’ and the defendant’s case.
The Judge also examined the exact meaning of the phrase “usual or last known residence” when reaching his decision. In relation to “usual” it was found that whilst the term does suggest constancy on some level, it does not necessarily denote everyday or even regular use. The fact that the defendant did not stay at his London house on a regular basis did not detract from the fact that is was a home of his. In relation to the “last known” element, the Judge found that it was feasible for him to have more than one last known address, highlighting that two usual or last known places of residence can exist at the same time.
This case demonstrates that when the need to determine usual or last known residence arises for the purposes of service of proceedings, the courts will assess a number of factors placing particular significance on whether an individual’s use of a property is like that of a home or more like that of a hotel. Whether they spend one or 30 nights a year at the property will be insignificant when establishing residency.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.