Posted On / 15.03.2017

Supreme Court decides Ilott appeal in favour of 3 charities

In the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment on 15 March 2017, 3 months after the hearing. The case involved a claim by a daughter against her mother’s estate after the mother died and gave her assets to 3 charities.  

The Supreme Court's decision  

The Supreme Court found in favour of the charities and has restored the District Judge's original award of £50,000 in favour of the daughter. The Supreme Court did this for 2 technical reasons which will have no bearing on other cases.  

What do we take from the Supreme Court’s decision?  

The Blue Cross and the other charities involved in the case will no doubt hail this decision as a victory for organisations like them. The reality is, however, that they won on 2 narrow grounds which will not be of any wider impact than in the Ilott case itself.  

The Court’s other observations, which did not in the end determine the outcome of this case, are considerably more helpful.  

The Supreme Court stressed that decisions made by courts in response to applications under the 1975 Act involve a value judgement and the exercise of a discretion   The Supreme Court also lamented the lack of clear guidance in the statute as to how the lower courts should exercise that discretion.  

The Supreme Court was, however, at pains to say that appeals should be discouraged. It is doing the parties few favours to allow them to pursue appeals in marginal cases, and the court no doubt had in mind the large number of appeals in the Ilott case and the fact that the litigation has been going on at vast expense since not long after Mrs Jackson died all the way back in 2004.  

The Law Commission may now be prompted to clarify the law and the way in which courts should these cases.  

Until then, however, cases coming before the courts will continue to be ones where the parties need to approach the trial with the greatest of care and only after thorough preparation. The parties are likely to have only one bite of the cherry.  

They also need to be under no doubt that the outcome of the Court’s consideration of the case can never be certain. . There is no one right answer.  Only the brave should decline to settle on reasonable terms.  Only the bold should insist instead on a judge coming in as a stranger to the case and deciding the outcome.    

Peter Livingstone

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