Springette v Defoe

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
Judgment Date10 Mar 1992
Judgment citation (vLex)[1992] EWCA Civ J0310-5
Docket Number92/0240

[1992] EWCA Civ J0310-5





Royal Courts of Justice


Lord Justice Dillon

Lord Justice Steyn

Sir Christopher Slade


Helen Lucina Springette
Joseph Defoe

MISS JOSEPHINE HAYES, instructed by Messrs W.A.G.Davidson & Co., appeared for the Appellant (Plaintiff).

MISS ELISABETH BRANN, instructed by Messrs Borm-Reid & Co., appeared for the Respondent (Defendant).


This is yet another case in which it falls to the court to decide the proportions of the beneficial interests of a man and a woman, who are not married to each other, in the proceeds of sale of a house which they have acquired in their joint names for the purpose of living together in it.


The appeal is an appeal by the plaintiff in the proceedings, Miss Springette, against a judgment of Mr Recorder Cenydd Howells given in the Mayor's and City of London Court on 4th October 1990. The judgment was a carefully prepared reserved judgment, delivered after the trial of the action, which had taken place over five days, not consecutive to each other, in June and July 1990. Now that more and more cases are being devolved, as this one was, to the County Courts for trial, it is highly undesirable, and adds greatly to the difficulties of all concerned, including the judge, if a fairly long trial is split up, as this one was.


The conclusion of the Recorder was that the beneficial interest in the property in question, 49 St Andrews Road, East Acton, London W3, was held by the parties, Miss Springette and the defendant, Mr Defoe, in equal shares. The contention for Miss Springette on the appeal is that the Recorder should have held that the proportions are 75% for Miss Springette and 25% only for Mr Defoe, as representing their contributions to the purchase of 49 St Andrews Road.


On a separate issue there is a cross-appeal by Mr Defoe claiming that Miss Springette should account to him for a share of rent for the occupation of part of the property, at any rate since Mr Defoe left, by a Mr Vernon Clarke, who is the grown-up son of Miss Springette.


The outline facts are straightforward, and I take them from the Recorder's judgment.


Miss Springette met Mr Defoe in 1979. She was then, as the Recorder put it, a mature lady with a grown-up son and daughter, and he was an equally mature man. She was the tenant of the London Borough of Ealing of a council flat. He went to live in her flat, and paid half of the rent of £32 per week. They lived together as husband and wife. Early in 1982 they moved, and became the joint tenants of the London Borough of Ealing of the property in issue, 49 St Andrews Road. This was a house of good size, but not in good condition, having been damaged by squatters.


On 30th June 1982 they received from the council a formal offer of sale of 49 St Andrews Road in the sum of £14,445. This price gave a discount of 41% on the estimated market value of the property £24,500, because Miss Springette had been a tenant of the council for 11 years or more. Miss Springette could not afford to buy the property on her own, even at that discounted price; her wages as a factory worker were not sufficient for her to be granted a large enough mortgage. She intended at first to buy the property jointly with her daughter,Miss Clarke, but Miss Clarke decided that she did not wish to proceed. Miss Springette and Mr Defoe therefore arranged that they would buy the property jointly, and they did so. At that stage, as the Recorder found, they were in love and intended at some stage to marry.


The total purchase price, including fees, was £14,706.35. £12,000 of that was raised by a mortgage of the property to the Nationwide Building Society, and they were both liable to the building society under the covenants in the mortgage. The evidence of Miss Springette, which the Recorder accepted, was that they agreed between themselves that each would contribute half of the mortgage instalments, and this, by and large, they did down to the time of the trial in the court below.


As to the balance of the £14,706.35 over the £12,000 mortgage advance, Mr Defoe provided £180 only, and Miss Springette provided the balance out of her savings. It is plain that Miss Springette had expected that Mr Defoe would provide more than £180, and was disappointed—put out—when he said that he had no more money available. She none the less proceeded with the joint purchase.


The title to 49 St Andrews Road was registered at H.M. Land Registry. The property was transferred by the council to Miss Springette and Mr Defoe as joint tenants at law, and they were duly registered as the joint proprietors. The Recorder called for an office copy of the registered transfer and this was produced. As the Recorder correctly states, however, the transfer says nothing about the beneficial interests of the parties, and is of no assistance on the primary issue in this case. As the courts have many times stressed—and I refer not least to the observations of Lawton L.J. and myself in Walker v. Hall [1984] 5 F.L.R. 126—it is very much to be deplored that solicitors should fail to take steps to find out and declare what the beneficial interests are to be, when the legal estate in a house is acquired by two persons in their joint names.


The personal relationship between Miss Springette and Mr Defoe seems to have faltered in 1983 and broke down in 1985. He finally left the property in 1985 or 1986, and these proceedings were started on 8th January 1987. The causes of the breakdown of the relationship are for present purposes immaterial.


Against that background, as the property was acquired in the joint names of both parties at a time when they were living together and as Miss Springette could not have bought the property without Mr Defoe's concurrence in the building society mortgage, it has at all times been common ground that Miss Springette and Mr Defoe were each intended to have some beneficial interest in the property and in its proceeds of sale. The question is how much?


Is may be added, as a statement of the obvious, that Mr Defoe could not have bought the property without the benefit of the 41% discount attributable to Miss Springette's having been a tenant of the London Borough of Ealing for 11 years or more and without the balance of £2500 or so provided by Miss Springette out of her savings to make up the purchase money.


It is important that the Recorder found, and there is ample evidence to support him, that they never had any discussion at all at or before the time of the purchase about what their respective beneficial interests were to be.


Miss Springette's claim has been throughout, since the parties fell out, that she is entitled to a 75% share and Mr Defoe is only entitled to a 25% share. That is the primary relief sought in the originating summons, and it is put forward on the basis that those are the proportions in which they provided the purchase money. The principle of law invoked is the age-old principle that if two (or more) persons purchase property in their joint names and there has been no declaration of trusts on which they are to hold the property, they will, as a matter of law in the absence of evidence to the contrary, hold the property on a resulting trust for the persons who provided the purchase money in the proportions in which they provided it. See Dyer v. Dyer (1788) 2 Cox Eq. Cas 92 and the speech of Lord Upjohn in Pettitt v. Pettitt [1970] A.C. 777 at 814.


The figures in the present case, which are not in dispute in this court although there was dispute on some below, are as follows:


Miss Springette


Discount attributable to her tenancy

Gross Price


Actual Price




One half of mortgage loan of £12,000


Cash contribution at time of purchase




Mr Defoe

One half of mortgage loan of £12,000


Cash contributed at time of purchase




That gives for practical purposes 75%:25%


The Recorder reached the different conclusion that they were to share equally, on the ground essentially that, though neither of them ever said anything about it to the other, each of them had in fact in his or her own mind an uncommunicated belief or intention that they were to share 49 St Andrews Road equally. The evidence of Miss Springette's belief was extracted by skilful cross-examination by Miss Brann at the trial, despite objections by Miss Hayes, as counsel for Miss Springette.


The Recorder dealt with this in the following passage on pages 9–10 of his judgment:—

"That puts one in an interesting position. If each party has practically the identical intention i.e. that ownership should be in equal shares, how does that square with the authorities concerning agreement, arrangement, common intention or understanding? What is reasonably clear is however that uncommunicated intention of itself is of no assistance. One is tempted to think that that point is doubtful where each party has the same intention. I don't think I would be tempted to find that merely if a party had the same intention that is common intention. I am not deciding that because I am satisfied looking at the facts surrounding the parties at the time of the acquisition and the Plaintiff's evidence that after the purchase the mortgage was paid in equal shares. It is my judgment that there is sufficient evidence on the facts of inference of common intention or arrangement between the parties that the...

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