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Privy Council considers beneficial ownership case

‘No basis for departing from the equal allocation that the parties intended’

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has dismissed an appeal by a Jamaican husband against a ruling of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica that the beneficial interest of a property bought by a married couple was to be held in equal shares.

The subject of the dispute in Miller and Another v Miller and Another [2017] UKPC 21 was a property at Yardley Chase in the parish of Saint Elizabeth ("Yardley Chase"). It was bought in 2004 and placed in the joint names of the parties "to hold the same unto [their] use". It remains in their joint names. A hotel was then built there. It was damaged by Hurricane Dean in 2007 and was thereafter reconstructed. The husband continues to live there and appears to continue to run a hotel business there.

In March 2009 the wife issued a claim in the Supreme Court for a declaration that she was the sole beneficial owner of Yardley Chase. Donald O McIntosh J dismissed her claim and ordered her to assign to the husband her legal interest and any beneficial interest in it. In July 2015 the Court of Appeal allowed the wife's appeal; ruled that there was no reason to depart from the original intention of the parties, which had been to hold the beneficial interest in Yardley Chase in equal shares; and so ordered that, subject to the grant of an option to the husband to buy the wife's share and also to the imposition upon him of a duty to account to her for the benefit of his sole occupation of it since 2007, Yardley Chase should be sold and the proceeds divided equally between them.

The husband appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The appeal was dismissed.

Lord Wilson, giving the sole judgment, said:

"Having adopted, as a starting-point, the fact that the parties both intended that the property should be in their equal beneficial ownership and that, even on the judge's findings, the costs of purchase and of the construction of the hotel had been met out of their pooled resources, the Court of Appeal proceeded to conduct an analysis, scarcely criticised on behalf of the husband, of the other factors in favour of the wife's claim to an award of 80% of such ownership and of the husband's converse claim to an award of 80% of it. Its conclusion was:

'Based on all the above, it seems that there is no basis for departing from the equal allocation that the parties intended at the time of their acquisition of the property and the construction of the building. As a result the fair allocation of the interest in the property should be 50% each.'

The Board finds no fault with the conclusion of the Court of Appeal."

For the judgment, click here.