Patrick v McKinley [2017] EWCA Civ 2068

15th December 2017

The Appellant sought a declaration of a proprietary interest in two properties and in the shares of a company which owned a third property. The Respondent was the sole beneficial owner of the two properties and of the shares in the company. The Respondent was a wealthy divorcee and the Appellant had worked as her housekeeper, during which time the parties established an intimate relationship. The basis of the Appellant’s interest was said to be works carried out at the properties by the Appellant, together with promises made by the Respondent that the properties would be jointly owned.

At first instance, the judge found that the Appellant was a highly unsatisfactory witness. Particularly, his evidence at trial was contradictory to evidence that he had previously given in family and bankruptcy proceedings. Moreover, it was inconsistent with evidence given by other (more independent) witnesses. The judge took the view that the Appellant was “making it up as he went along” and held that the Respondent did not make the promises alleged and that there was no credible evidence that the Appellant had done any works to the properties for which he had not been remunerated.

The appeal was concerned solely with the judge’s findings of fact and assessments of the Appellant’s credibility.

The Court of Appeal highlighted the “well-established” point of principle that appellate courts should be cautious before overturning findings of fact made by a judge at trial. Indeed, the court would only interfere with the findings if the trial judge was “plainly wrong”.

It was held that the submissions made on appeal were essentially an attempt to re-argue the case below – there was no basis on which it could be said that the judge’s findings were plainly wrong. Further, it was clear from the evidence given by the Appellant in the earlier proceedings that he was not telling the truth in this trial. It was important to remember that the trial judge was in the best position to assess the credibility of the Appellant, having seen the parties being cross-examined and having heard evidence from other witnesses.

The appeal was dismissed.

Team: Katie Gray
Expertise: Real Property, Proprietary Estoppel, Rights of Light


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