Judgment debtors sadly often try to wriggle out of payment – but judges will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that court orders are obeyed. The Court of Appeal made that clear in tightening the noose on a businessman who was determined to avoid honouring a bank debt of over $300 million.

The businessman, domiciled in Monaco and described as an ultra-high-net-worth individual, traded in equities and foreign exchange through a company of which he was the sole shareholder and director. The bank launched proceedings after the company failed to meet margin calls and obtained judgment against it for $243 million. With interest and over $36 million in legal costs added, the total judgment debt came to more than $320 million.

During the course of the ensuing enforcement proceedings, a judge had observed that the businessman was someone who was prepared to do what was necessary to avoid paying the debt. The bank claimed that he had failed to comply with a court order requiring him to disclose documents relating to the company’s financial position and sought his committal to prison for contempt. A judge accepted jurisdiction to consider that application.

In dismissing the businessman’s appeal against that decision, the Court noted the powerful public interest in upholding the authority of the courts and the effective enforcement of court orders. The inherent judicial power to commit those in contempt to prison derives from the common law and has never been fully regulated by statute or rules of court. The power is extra-territorial and the businessman’s procedural complaints about the judge’s impeccable ruling were implausible.

For help and advice please contact Gemma Parker on 0808 166 8827

One of the most valuable reliefs from Inheritance Tax (IHT) is Business Property Relief (BPR), which allows the transfer of qualifying business property from the deceased's estate at a nil value for IHT purposes.

The rules on what constitutes business property are many and complex and the principal exclusion from availability for BPR is where a business is an investment business – or put precisely, where its activities 'consist wholly or mainly of dealing in securities, stocks or shares, land or buildings or making or holding investments'.

One big area of contention is that of furnished holiday lettings, which can qualify for favourable treatment with regard to other taxes. However, HM Revenue and Customs see holiday lettings as easy pickings for IHT purposes and will routinely claim that they are investments in land, rather than businesses per se.

By and large, HMRC have been successful with this argument, but not always. The key to the decision will lie in the level of services that are provided with the letting. In a recent case in which the guests were provided with several services, including a pool and sauna, the Upper Tribunal agreed that it was a business.

A number of similar cases are pending and it will be interesting to see just how close to operating as a hotel (albeit one with weekly lets) the business must be to qualify for BPR.

Watch this space.

For help and advice please contact Lucy Bluck, l.bluck@sydneymitchell.co.uk  on 0808 166 5638.

Around three in 1,000 babies born in England suffer brain injury at or soon after birth, due to lack of oxygen during delivery. Early research indicates promising results for a new test - Broadband near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) - that could help doctors assess brain damage earlier and tailor treatment to prevent deaths and reduce the potential for life-long disabilities.

More details on BBC News:


For help and advice on matters such as this please contact Adam Hodson on 0808 166 8827.



Royal Assent has been given to the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018

The death of a child is truly traumatic for any parent and the effects can be devastating and long lasting. No bereaved parent should be put in the difficult position of desperately needing time away from work to grieve but instead having their request for time off rejected by their employer. Whilst many employers do act with the compassion and sensitivity needed at such a difficult time, there are still many employers who do not demonstrate the appropriate level of understanding so this will go some way to help.

This new legislation is due to come into full force by April 2020 and provides a right to two weeks of time away from work for those employees who have sadly lost a child under 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.  

All the detail will appear in supporting Regulations (not yet published) which will contain, amongst other things, details of how much remuneration will be payable during the leave.

Put the date in your diary, more information will follow when additional details are published.

For legal help or advice on this or other related Employment Law Matters please speak to Emma-Louise Hewitt e.hewitt@sydneymitchell.co.uk 0808 166 8827

Construction works on neighbouring properties can make your life a misery but, with the right legal advice, you may be able to do something about them. In a case on point, the High Court came to the aid of a woman whose rental property was deprived of light after builders embarked on a project next door.

The woman did not challenge planning permission that her neighbours had obtained for the construction of a new home on their land. However, as work began, gantries, scaffolding and covered conveyor belts were erected that blocked the light to the first floor of her property. She rented out the house to holidaymakers and was losing business due to the works, which were expected to take 60 weeks.

After instructing solicitors, she sought judicial review of the council's decision to approve the construction methods being used by the builders. Also, concerned that the project might cause subsidence damage to her property, she challenged the council's decision to allow her neighbours to excavate and construct the foundations of the new house without requiring them to obtain an expert engineering report and prior approval of the details of the work.

In upholding the woman's complaints, the Court noted that the council had not consulted neighbours before approving the construction methods. The matters had been delegated to a planning officer, who neither gave reasons for nor kept a written record of his decision. The officer had also failed to draw the council's attention to the fact that, after the works had begun, a retaining wall between the woman's property and the new house had collapsed without warning. In the circumstances, the decisions were quashed and the council was directed to reconsider both matters in the light of the Court's ruling.

The activities of others can sometimes cause great irritation, but there may be a way to achieve a resolution. For help and advice contact Sundeep Bilkhu, s.bilkhu@sydneymitchell.co.uk on 0808 166 8827.

The Supreme Court judges' decision to prevent a wife from divorcing her husband, which was made 'without enthusiasm', is expected to lead to calls for a rapid change in the law.

The case arose after a wife's application for a divorce was opposed by her husband on the basis that the marriage had not irretrievably broken down. Slightly more than 1 in 1,000 divorce applications lead to a contested hearing on that ground. Under the law, there is an automatic right to a divorce only under a limited number of circumstances.

These are:

*Divorce without consent can take place where the couple have lived apart for five years;

*A couple who have lived apart for two years can divorce with the consent of both spouses; or

*A couple can divorce where there is an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship. This can be evidenced in several ways, including adultery, but the essence is that the behaviour of the spouse is such that the other spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her. In this instance, the husband's behaviour, though far short of what might be expected in a normal loving relationship, was not so egregious as to meet that test.

In this case, the husband believed that a reconciliation was possible, and the couple had not lived apart for five years.

When a petition for divorce is made on the ground of unreasonable behaviour, the normal practice is for such behaviour to be dealt with very briefly, as a detailed exposition can increase the ill-feeling at what is always a difficult time and that in turn can make other aspects (such as the residence arrangements for children and the financial arrangements) more difficult to negotiate. The wife's evidence in respect of her husband's behaviour was therefore limited. For example, in regard to one aspect (that he belittled her in front of others) she called no witnesses to the first court hearing to support her claim.

The appeal to the Supreme Court dealt in essence not with the husband's behaviour as such, but the effect it had on his wife.

Our experts in family law are experienced in dealing with all aspects, contentious or not, of family breakdown.

For help and advice please contact Karen Moores, k.moores@sydneymitchell.co.uk on 0808 166 5638.

The law that allows someone who was dependent on a deceased person during their lifetime to make a claim against their estate if there is no, or inadequate, provision for them in the will is one of long standing (the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975). However, many people think it applies only to blood relatives.

That this assumption is incorrect was emphatically confirmed in a recent case in which a 70-year-old woman was awarded £325,000 from the estate of a man with whom she had had a relationship lasting more than 20 years, the last seven of which they had spent together in the man's home, which was the principal asset of the estate.

His will left his £1 million estate entirely to his two daughters, both of whom are comfortably off. When his former partner made a claim under the Act, they opposed it, contending that the relationship was not one of permanence and substance.

The judge concluded that the man had clearly had a responsibility to his partner and made the award.

The case raises the following points. The first is that if you are in a similar situation and wish to leave your assets in a particular way, that can normally be achieved, but success may depend on making arrangements well before your demise. Secondly, if you are in a situation in which appropriate provision has not been made for you, a well-founded and well-argued challenge to a will that cuts you out may produce success.

For help and advice please contact Hayley-Jo, h.lockley@sydneymitchell.co.uk on 0808 166 5638.

In 2016 receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home on her first day of work at a corporate finance company in the City of London. This was because she refused to wear shoes with two to four inch high heels. She launched an online petition calling for the law to be changed and garnered more than 152,000 signatures. The Parliamentary Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee did find “potentially discriminatory dress codes are commonplace”. But in March 2017 Parliament announced it would not be changing the law.

The good news is that the Government Equalities Office has now provided clarity to both employers and employees and job seekers with its publication, “Dress Codes And Sex Discrimination – What You Need To Know”, available on the Gov.UK site.

So why is dress code significant? It can present the professional image of a business, or provide consistency, or can be important for health and safety. But it’s also a minefield in terms of discrimination.

The Government Equalities Office publication recognises that employers can set a standard for the dress of employees and suggests this is best done in consultation with unions or employees. Employers should take the opportunity to explain their reasoning. A dress code can become a valid term in an employee’s contract of employment.

Whilst such a code does not have to be identical for women and men, there should be equivalence.

So it would be hard justifying women wearing formal black clothes when the men can make do with sweatshirt and jeans. But it’s acceptable for men to be required to wear ties if women are expected to be equally formal.

Female employees should certainly not be expected to dress provocatively. Dress can lead to harassment especially in retail situations.

So what’s a safe dress code?  This might for example be a supplied uniform, or a black suit and low heeled black shoes. Transgender staff should be given the option of interpreting the dress code, or wearing the supplied uniform, for whatever gender they choose. It’s a question of requiring similar standards from all employees, whether they be male or female or transgender, and treating the requirement with equal rigour in each case.
And finally, gender specific clothing or appearance is to be avoided, and that, of course, includes two to four inch heels.

Important agreements, even between close family members, should always be put into writing by a lawyer as the best means of heading off future discord. The point could hardly have been more clearly made than by a High Court dispute concerning a ramshackle football ground that set father against son.

A businessman had stepped in to save his struggling local football club when it was heavily in debt and had only 109 members. Many years later, however, the fortunes of the club were transformed when its ground was earmarked for development as part of a major urban regeneration project. As a result, the site was estimated to be worth at least £10 million.

The businessman’s son and nephew argued that, before the club’s purchase, he had agreed that they would have a 20 per cent stake in the business. A former boyfriend of his daughter also claimed a 10 per cent share. They argued, amongst other things, that the club would not have thrived had it not been for their extensive and gratuitous assistance in running it. The businessman, however, resisted their claims.

In ruling in his favour, the Court was not satisfied that he had promised the three men that they would be part-owners of the club. They had neither been answerable for the club’s debts, nor had there been a partnership or joint venture agreement. In the absence of written records, it was also impossible to identify any definite and material financial contribution made by any of them to the club’s purchase.

Whilst the Court accepted that they had worked with a view to improving the fortunes of the club, their contribution had not been exceptional and had not been linked to any assurances given to them by the businessman. Following strife within the family, they had some years ago ceased their involvement in the club. The Court concluded that they had no beneficial interest in the club, or its ground.

Contact Kam Majevadia K.Majevadia@SydneyMitchell.co.uk / Hayley-Jo h.lockley@sydneymitchell.co.uk for help and advice on 0808 166 8860

Those who doubt the legal advantages of getting married should take note of a case in which an elderly man was left facing homelessness after his partner’s unexpected death and had to go to court to seek reasonable provision from her estate.

The unmarried couple were of similar age and the man expected that, in the natural course of things, he would probably die first. They lived in a house that was in her sole name and, after she died suddenly, her son – to whom she had left almost all her estate – took steps to make him leave the property.

After the man consulted solicitors, they launched proceedings on his behalf under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The claim was hotly resisted by the son, who argued that the relationship between the man and his mother had become more akin to that of a lodger and a landlady by the time she died.

In upholding the man’s claim, however, a judge noted that the circumstances of the case provided an example of the vulnerable position in which cohabitants can find themselves if they unexpectedly survive their partner. The couple’s relationship had lasted for about 20 years and they had lived openly as husband and wife for more than a decade.

The judge noted that the woman died on board an aircraft as the couple were going on holiday together. She had complained to friends about his lifestyle and that she had to do everything for him, but it was unfair to characterise him as a mere lodger. She had made it clear that she had no wish to live alone and the relationship contained an element of mutual support. Although they had not married, their commitment to each other was equivalent to engagement. Believing that he would be the first to die, the man had made a will leaving her half of his estate.

He had, in the circumstances, established that he was dependent upon the woman for accommodation and was entitled to reasonable provision from her estate. The judge ordered a sale of the home they once shared and ruled that half the proceeds should be invested in purchasing a new home for the man. That sum would revert to the woman’s estate on his death.

Contact Kam Majevadia K.Majevadia@SydneyMitchell.co.uk/ Hayley-Jo Lockley h.lockley@sydneymitchell.co.uk for help and advice on 0808 166 8860


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