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James v Thomas [2007] EWCA Civ 1212  Court of Appeal

Mr Thomas was the sole registered proprietor of ‘The Cottage’ in which Miss James claimed a beneficial interest. The Cottage originally belonged to Mr Thomas’ parents. He inherited a one third share in the property on their death. He then brought the remainder shares from his siblings. At the time of acquiring the house he did not know Miss James. It wasn’t until three years later that he formed a relationship with her. Miss James moved into The Cottage in May 1989. Mr Thomas was an agricultural building and drainage contractor. He ran his business form The Cottage. Miss James had undertaken considerable amount of work in the business without payment. She had also given Mr Thomas £5,000 from her divorce settlement for him to pay off a tax bill, she had undertaken work on The Cottage and had provided work which lead to the acquisition of a piece of adjoining land. He had made assurances to her that she would be “well provided for” in the event of his death, that the work she had undertaken would benefit both of them and he had redrafted his will in her favour. In Feb 2004 the relationship broke down and she moved out of The Cottage.


She was not entitled to a beneficial interest. The assurances given were insufficient to found a claim of common intention constructive trust.

Sir John Chadwick:

“it is, to my mind, at least as likely that the observation "this will benefit us both" (in relation to improvements to the property) was intended to mean - and was understood at the time to mean - that the improvements would have the effect that the property in which they were living as their home would be more comfortable and more convenient: or, to put the point another way, that the improvements to the property would be reflected in an improvement to the quality of their life together. It is, I think, unreal to suggest that an observation in those terms, made in that context, was intended or understood to be a promise of some property interest, either present or in the future. Nor, as it seems to me, can it be said that the observation "this will benefit us both", when made in the context of a discussion of matters relating to the business, was intended or understood to be a promise of some property interest in The Cottage. Given that the outgoings of both parties were funded by the receipts of the business -and that, from about 1999, the business was carried on in partnership - there is no reason to think that the observation "this will benefit us both" (in relation to the business) was more than a statement of the obvious: what was of benefit to the business was of benefit to both Mr Thomas and Miss James, for whom the business was their livelihood. The second of the assurances said to have been relied upon was that "He told her that in the event of his death 'you will be well provided for'". I find it impossible to see that as a representation that Miss James was to have a present proprietary interest in the property - or as a representation that she would have a proprietary interest in the property during Mr Thomas's lifetime. It was, as it seems to me, a representation as to what the position would be after Mr Thomas' death. And it must, I think, be seen as a representation made on the basis of a common assumption that the parties would still be living together when that eventuality occurred. It is most unlikely to have been intended or understood as a representation that, if Miss James predeceased Mr Thomas, a share in the property would devolve through her estate (to whoever might be the beneficiary under her will or intestacy). And, as it seems to me, it is most unlikely to have been intended or understood as a representation that, if the parties were not living together at Mr Thomas' death, she should, nevertheless, have provision out of his estate. There is no reason to give the assurance that, in the event of Mr Thomas' death, Miss James would be well provided for, any wider meaning than that he intended to make a will in her favour. And, as the judge found, that was indeed his intention.”

Back to lecture outline on constructive trusts in Land Law