The ‘Common Sense’ Approach to Law: Help or Hindrance?
29 January 2014 by Amy Burton
In March 2012 a story hit the headlines that shocked many people. Mr & Mrs Rawlings had prepared mirror Wills, gifting their whole estate to a family friend, Terry Marley, rather than their two sons, who they had not been in contact with for many years.
Upon the death of Mr Rawlings, the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled that he was deemed to have died intestate (i.e. without a valid Will) because he and his wife had mistakenly signed each others Wills. This consequently meant that the whole of Mr Rawlings estate would have passed to his two sons, with no provision for Terry Marley.
The full story can be found in our previous blog by clicking here.
The matter has recently been referred to the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal in the UK. The original intended beneficiary, Terry Marley, was still adamant that the wishes of Mr & Mrs Rawlings should be upheld and that the clerical error be overlooked. It was clear to many involved that Mr & Mrs Rawlings had fully intended to leave their estate to Terry Marley and not to their two sons.
The Supreme Court, in its final ruling, has decided to overturn the decisions reached by the High Court and Court of Appeal, by accepting that the last Will of Mr Rawlings was a legally valid document. The Supreme Court decided that Mr & Mrs Rawlings’ intentions should be considered paramount and that the clerical error should be overlooked.
This means that the wishes contained within Mr Rawlings’ Will shall be upheld and that Terry Marley will inherit the whole estate. Mr Rawlings’ sons will not receive anything under the terms of the Will.
Whilst it would first seem to many that the ‘common sense’ approach has prevailed, it has greatly concerned many in the legal profession. They are worried that this case may now open the floodgates for many similar cases which involve clerical errors.
Lesley King, professor at the University of Law has been quoted in the Law Society Gazette, saying that “this is taking a much more flexible approach, and as soon as there is a more flexible approach there is more opportunity to push the boundaries”.
Whilst every case heard before the Court will be assessed on a case by case basis, it will certainly be interesting to see how far they are willing to stretch the thresholds of ‘clerical error’.