(1) John Weth (Applicant) James Muggleton (Claimants) Er Majesty's Attorney General (Respondent) (2) Adrian John Lawrance Randall and Another (Defendants)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
JudgeLord Justice Nourse,Lord Justice Thorpe,Lord Justice Judge
Judgment Date10 Jul 2000
Judgment citation (vLex)[2000] EWCA Civ J0710-1
Docket NumberA3/1998/0415 A3/1999/7025

[2000] EWCA Civ J0710-1

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE

COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

(Mr Justice Neuberger)

Before:

Lord Justice Nourse

(Vice President of the Court of Appeal, Civil Division)

Lord Justice Thorpe and

Lord Justice Judge

A3/1998/0415 A3/1999/7025

(1) John Weth
(Applicant)
and
James Muggleton
Claimants
and
Er Majesty's Attorney General
(Respondent)
and
(2) Adrian John Lawrance Randall
(2)Jillian Wilkinson
Defendants

The Applicant First Claimant Mr J Weth appeared in person

Mr W Henderson and Miss L Davies (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the Respondent First Defendant

Lord Justice Nourse

Introduction

2

This is an application for permission to appeal arising out of a long running and most unfortunate dispute relating to the affairs of a charity formerly called the Society of Christ the Sower Trust, which in 1998 was renamed the Little Gidding Trust. Two of its trustees and committee members were John Weth and James Muggleton, Mr Weth being also its chairman. By an order made on 4th February 1997 the Charity Commissioners, in pursuance of section 18(1)(vii) of the Charities Act 1993, ordered that Adrian John Lawrance Randall be appointed receiver and manager in respect of the property and affairs of the charity. By a further order made on 17th December 1997 the Commissioners, in pursuance of section 18(2)(i) of the 1993 Act, ordered that Mr Weth and Mr Muggleton be removed as trustees and committee members of the charity.

3

By originating summonses issued in the Chancery Division Mr Weth and Mr Muggleton, as claimants, sought, by way of appeal pursuant to the 1993 Act, the setting aside of the two orders. For present purposes it is enough to say that in both sets of proceedings Mr Weth has been the effective claimant and the Attorney General has been the effective defendant.

4

The preliminary issue

5

The originating summonses came on for trial before Mr Justice Neuberger on 1st February 1999. At the start of the hearing the judge was asked to decide a preliminary issue arising in the light of the decision of this court in Jones v. Attorney General [1974] Ch. 148. He accepted a submission by Mr Henderson, for the Attorney General, that on an appeal by a former trustee against a decision of the Commissioners removing him a two stage process is involved. The first stage is for the court to ask itself whether the decision was wrongly made. If it was not, then the appeal will fail. If it was, then the court will go on to ask itself whether, on the material before it, the decision ought to stand or whether some other order is appropriate. Mr Henderson submitted that in the present case it was both permissible and appropriate to avoid the first stage and go straight to the second, since that would result in considerable savings in time and expense and, moreover, in no prejudice to Mr Weth, because it would necessarily involve a concession by the Attorney General that he had succeeded at the first stage.

6

Mr Weth objected to the course proposed because he wished the court to have before it full details as to how the Commissioners had reached their decision. He felt that, if that course was not taken, he would lose the opportunity of exposing the inadequacies of the Commissioners in public, and that he might not have a proper opportunity of clearing his name. I should point out that each originating summons included allegations of bias and misconduct on the part of the Commissioners.

7

The judge decided to accede to Mr Henderson's submission. In recording the reasons for that decision in his main judgment delivered on 29th April 1999, he said:

"It seemed to me that the matters which Mr Weth would wish to put before the Court, even if I adopted Mr Henderson's suggested procedure, would be extensive, in terms of documentation and witnesses, and would raise a number of issues, some of which might be quite difficult to resolve. That has proved correct: the case has taken around nine full days to hear, and that excludes reading of documents which I have done when not sitting. Investigating the steps taken by, and reasoning of, the Commissioners would have involved additional, I believe substantial additional, evidence."

8

The judge added that that would not only have resulted in a substantial increase in costs and court time, but would also have involved a significant extra burden on Mr Weth, who had acted throughout the hearing in person, as he has in this court. Moreover, he had not thought that Mr Weth would lose the opportunity of having his name cleared, and he was satisfied that he had not lost it. He had thought that since Mr Weth would be able to cross-examine Mr Cotton and Mr Crookshank of the Charity Commission, as he had indeed been able to, it was not appropriate to put him in a position where he could require further witnesses from the Commission to be called.

9

On this application Mr Weth submitted that the judge's decision on the preliminary issue was wrong and that it ought to be set aside. He recognised, however, that if the full court were to accept that submission, they would have no course open to them other than to order a retrial. Mr Weth sought to persuade us that the retrial could be limited in some way but, even if that were possible, no retrial of a case which has already taken around nine full days to be tried (we were told it was ten days in all) could reasonably be contemplated except as a last resort. In any event, the judge's decision on this point was well within his discretion and could not be interfered with by this court. I would therefore reject Mr Weth's application so far as it relates to the judge's decision of the preliminary issue.

10

The judge's judgment and this application

11

Having decided other procedural points of which mention is unnecessary, the judge dealt, first, with the appeal against the appointment of Mr Randall as receiver and manager and, secondly, with Mr Weth's appeal against his removal. In a judgment running to 160 pages he dismissed both appeals. He refused Mr Weth permission to bring further appeals to this court.

12

This application came on for hearing on 16th May 2000 and lasted for two days. Mr Weth put in written submissions running to about 60 pages, and he addressed us for most of the first day and for part of the afternoon of the second day. None of the time was wasted. It would have been impossible properly to evaluate the merits of Mr Weth's application in any shorter period of time. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that it remains an application for permission to appeal, in respect of which the question is whether, if permission were to be granted, the applicant would have a real prospect of success on an appeal to this court. On such an application, whichever way it is determined, it is inappropriate for lengthy reasons to be given. Our primary task is to examine the judge's judgment, in order to see whether it is arguable that he has erred in a material respect.

13

The facts

14

The judge stated the facts in great detail. Many of them must be repeated and I repeat them mainly in his own words. The charity was established in 1971 to further the advancement of religion, in particular by pilgrimage to the church at Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire. As from September 1994 decision-making powers were delegated to a committee consisting of at least five members, of whom between two and four were to be trustees. The assets vested in the charity included residential properties at Little Gidding, which were let from time to time to individuals who formed themselves into a Christian community. In about 1977 the Reverend Robert Van de Weyer took over the spiritual leadership of the community. Between 1980 and 1990 membership of the community appears to have varied between about six and twenty in number. In about 1986 Mr Van de Weyer and his wife, Sarah, purchased a house called Castle House, about six miles from Little Gidding, into which they then moved. Members of the community and visitors were from time to time put up there.

15

By 1991 Mr Van de Weyer, in addition to being the community's spiritual leader, had become chairman of the trustees and was effectively in charge of running the community, the charity and their respective finances. Members of the community would often arrange to make loans to the charity during the time that they lived at Little Gidding, the loans being adjusted and repaid when they left the community. The judge said that the arrangements in respect of the loans appeared to have been very informal and that there did not appear to have been any written agreements in relation to them. It is not in doubt that Mr and Mrs Van de Weyer themselves made substantial payments to or for the benefit of the charity. Disputes both as to the amount of those payments and as to whether they were loans or gifts are at the heart of the charity's problems and the proceedings to which they have given rise.

16

I take up the account of the charity's affairs in the judge's own words:

"During the period 1991 to 1994 the Charity's affairs appear to have been run in a fairly unconventional, indeed a pretty disorganised, way. There is no question that proper accounting records were not kept, and it may well be that some of the records were lost. There were a number of different bank accounts controlled by different people with no coordination. There was intermingling of the Charity's funds with those of the Van de Weyers (and possibly of others). Substantial works, said to cost in the region of £180,000 were...

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