Samuel John Fielden v Stephen Christie-Miller and Others Stephen Christie-miller (Part 20 Claimant) Samuel John Fielden and Others (Part 20 Defendants)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
JudgeSir William Blackburne
Judgment Date22 January 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] EWHC 87 (Ch)
Docket NumberCase No: HC-2014-000167

[2015] EWHC 87 (Ch)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Sir William Blackburne

Case No: HC-2014-000167

Between:
Samuel John Fielden
Claimant
and
(1) Stephen Christie-Miller
(2) The Reverend Canon Colin Hill OBE
(3) John Morcom
(4) Caroline Aylmer Cannon-Brookes
(5) Mark Sheardown
(6) Piers Marmion
(7) Timothy Michael Robinson
(8) Anthony David Whiteoak Robinson
Defendants

and

Stephen Christie-miller
Part 20 Claimant

and

(1) Samuel John Fielden
(2) The Reverend Canon Colin Hill OBE
(3) John Morcom
(4) Caroline Aylmer Cannon-Brookes
(5) Mark Sheardown
(6) Piers Marmion
(7) Timothy Michael Robinson
(8) Anthony David Whiteoak Robinson
(9) Michael Francis Mostyn Owen Jodrell
(10) Derek Robin Peppiatt
Part 20 Defendants

Giles Goodfellow QC and Mark West (instructed by Wilsons LLP) for the first defendant/Part 20 claimant and tenth Part 20 Defendants

Richard Wilson and Harry Martin (instructed by Boodle Hatfield LLP) for the third, fourth, ninth and tenth Part 20 defendants

Hearing dates: 9, 10 and 11 December 2014

Sir William Blackburne

Introduction

1

These proceedings relate to two separate trusts. The first in time is a settlement created by Charles Wakefield Christie-Miller on 18 February 1967. That settlement ("the 1967 Settlement") is of land and other assets at Swyncombe ("the Settlement Fund") in Oxfordshire. By clause 2(i) the trustees are to hold the Settlement Fund in such manner and form in all respects as they shall from time to time during the trust period by any deed or deeds appoint. The class of objects in whose favour the trustees are empowered to exercise such power of appointment includes Stephen Christie-Miller ("Stephen") and Samuel Fielden ("Sam")

2

On 5 January 2005 the trustees of the 1967 Settlement ("the Settlement trustees") resolved to grant Sam a life interest in the Settlement Fund and, subject to this, to hold the Fund primarily for his issue. One of the assets of the Settlement Fund is a property which has been referred to as Home Farmhouse. Home Farmhouse has been occupied by Stephen and his family since Easter 1996. As will later appear Stephen claims to be entitled to an interest in it. The Settlement trustees also resolved to grant to Stephen without delay an assured tenancy of Home Farmhouse. It was to be on a full repairing basis and at a market rent, but with the amount of rent payable taking into account his contribution to certain renovation costs. In 2007 and 2008 the Settlement trustees gave effect to these resolutions by executing deeds of appointment conferring on Sam interests in parts of the Settlement Fund. There has been no appointment by them of Home Farmhouse.

3

Adjoining the lands within the Settlement Fund are other lands which (with other assets) are subject to the trusts established by the will dated 15 March 1998 of William John Christie-Miller ("John") who died on 3 May 1999. John was the son of Charles Wakefield Christie-Miller. Under the terms of that will ("the Will") John conferred a life interest in those other lands and assets ("the Will Fund") upon his widow, Kathleen, who died on 20 December 2004. From the expiry of three months from Kathleen's death, Stephen has been entitled to an interest in possession of the Will Fund, subject to any appointment by the trustees. By a deed of appointment dated 20 March 2007 ("the 20 March deed of appointment") the Will trustees purported to exercise the power of appointment such that, subject to the trusts declared by the Will in favour of Stephen, they should henceforth hold the Will Fund and its income for Sam absolutely.

4

Disputes having arisen over the meaning and effect of the 20 March deed of appointment, Sam issued proceedings on 9 August 2013 against Stephen and former and current trustees of the Will trusts. By those proceedings Sam seeks declaratory relief concerning the true construction of the deed, alternatively rectification of it. The relief is designed to establish that the deed was effective to provide, or should be rectified so as to provide, that the income of the appointed fund is to be held for Stephen for life and that subject thereto capital and income are to be held for Sam absolutely. On one view of the deed – and Stephen contends that it is its correct and intended effect – the appointment does not cut down the absolute interest which, in the events that have happened, is given to him by another provision in the Will. The proceedings are brought against Stephen who is the first defendant, the former Will trustees (i.e. those in office when the 20 March deed of appointment was executed) who are the second to fourth defendants and the current Will trustees who are the fifth to eighth defendants.

5

Stephen defends Sam's claim and counterclaims for declarations, variously expressed, that he became and remains entitled to an absolute interest in the Will Fund and that it was not open to the then Will trustees (the second to fourth defendants to his Part 20 claim) or to their successors, the current Will trustees (the fifth to eighth defendants to his claim), to reduce or cut down that interest. He goes further. He contends that he is entitled to a freehold interest in Home Farmhouse, alternatively to the right to live there rent free until the death of the survivor of himself and his wife. The basis for this is a claim in proprietary estoppel. It is founded on events which occurred between late October 1994 and subsequently (but chiefly in the period up to John's death in 1999) such that those who were the Settlement trustees at the time and those who are the current trustees were and are estopped from exercising any power of appointment conferred on them by the 1967 Settlement so as to reduce or cut down that entitlement. He counterclaims for relief accordingly, including repayment of the rent he says that he mistakenly paid for living in Home Farmhouse between the death of Kathleen in December 2004 and October 2011 when he stopped paying. Stephen has appeared before me by Giles Goodfellow QC and Mark West.

6

The current Settlement trustees are the third, fourth, ninth and tenth defendants to Stephen's Part 20 claim. Of those, the ninth defendant, Michael Jodrell, and the third defendant, John Morcom, were trustees in October 1994. So also, at that time, was Stephen's father, David. David Christie-Miller was replaced as a trustee in February 1995 by the tenth Part 20 defendant, Robin Peppiatt, and later died. Mr Jodrell (who had been a trustee since 1985), Mr Morcom (who had been a trustee since 1992) and Mr Peppiatt were later joined by the fourth Part 20 defendant, Caroline Cannon-Brookes. She was appointed a trustee in 2001. Those four persons remain the trustees. They have raised a number of defences to Stephen's Part 20 claim. They have appeared before me by Richard Wilson and Harry Martin.

7

It is the sufficiency of the pleaded claim in estoppel against those four persons that is in issue on this hearing. They contend that the pleaded case is defective and must fail and have issued one of the two applications which are before me. That is an application, first, that the Part 20 claim should be struck out against them pursuant to CPR 3.4(2)(a) on the ground that the statement of case discloses no reasonable cause for bringing the claim and, second, that the court should order summary judgment under CPR 24.2 because Stephen has no real prospect of succeeding on it and there is no other compelling reason why the case should be disposed of at a trial. They advance two separate reasons, each based on a proposition of law. The first is that under trust law, unless provided to the contrary in the trust instrument (and there is no contrary provision in the 1967 Settlement), trustees must act unanimously. This was referred to as the "unanimity" principle. Therefore, it is said, if a representation by them is to found an estoppel, it must have been made by or on behalf of all of them. They contend that the statement of case, even when read together with Stephen's reply to their defence, does not sufficiently allege that any representation or assurance was made by or on behalf of all of them. The pleading, it is said, ignores the unanimity principle. The second is that under trust law trustees cannot fetter the exercise at a future date of a discretion possessed by them as trustees so that any covenants, undertakings, policies or premature or irrevocable views entered into or expressed by them concerning the future exercise by them of their fiduciary powers are void and unenforceable as a fetter on their discretion. This was referred to as the "non-fettering" principle. Accordingly, no estoppel based on representation or promise concerning the Settlement trustees' intention as to the future exercise of their dispositive powers, whether under clause 2(i) of the 1967 Settlement or otherwise, can arise.

8

Stephen resists the application. For good measure, he applies to amend his statement of case in case I should find that his existing pleading is defective in either of the respects alleged and can be cured by suitable amendment. That is the other application which is before me.

9

I note in passing that the trustees resist Stephen's estoppel claim on grounds additional to those raised by their application. They dispute that the representations were made on which Stephen relies; they say that even if the representations were made Stephen did not rely on them or, if he did, he was unreasonable to do so and, in any event, did not act to his detriment in reliance on them. For the purposes of this application I assume that the representations were made and that the other necessary ingredients of the estoppel, save only those in issue before me, are established.

10

There was at one stage a...

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