14 February 2020 - Article
You may have seen reference in the press to the success of our client, The Royal Society, in securing offshore funds belonging to its benefactor the late Mr Crowley-Milling.
We can assure our friends in the Crown Dependencies that the decision, The Royal Society v Robinson and others, is limited to the facts.
Mr Crowley-Milling was a distinguished physicist who, amongst other roles, had worked with CERN in Switzerland.
Earlier Wills left everything to The Royal Society in the event that his wife predeceased him.
However, following the death of his wife in 2005, he decided to benefit his two nieces or their children.
In 2006, he made a Swiss Will and then an English Will which specifically preserved the Swiss Will and, subject to various legacies, left the balance of his estate 'in the United Kingdom' to The Royal Society.
Mr Crowley-Milling had not in fact referred to 'United Kingdom' when giving instructions to his solicitor. He used the words 'Great Britain'. The solicitors, when returning an engrossment, referred to the words 'this country'.
Following the death of one of his nieces Mr Crowley-Milling executed a new Will in 2009 in similar terms but with legacies of £400,000 to his family. Evidence from the will file shows that he was concerned that the younger family members should not inherit before the age of 25.
At the date of death in 2012, he held a little in excess of £900,000 in accounts in Douglas and in St Helier.
Applying the technical and/or constitutionally accurate definition of the United Kingdom, those accounts would pass on intestacy to the benefit of the immediate family and HMRC.
It is fair to say that the family felt that the correct definition should apply and that Jersey and the Isle of Man should not be regarded for the purposes of Mr Crowley-Milling's succession as included within the United Kingdom.
Nugee J determined that the words 'United Kingdom' should be construed as incorporating the Isle of Man and Jersey.
We are aware of the importance that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man place on their constitutional position.
Nugee J's decision is less surprising than Mathew J in 1887 in Stoneham v The Ocean, Railway and General Accident Insurance Company saying:
'…the question which the parties intended to leave to the Court is whether Jersey is, in popular language a part of the United Kingdom. I have no hesitation in saying that it is: I can give no other answer to the question.'
It is perhaps even more surprising to see that Her Majesty's Government continues to be confused over the issue. By way of example, the UK Border Agency Guide S2 Registration of stateless persons defines the United Kingdom as meaning 'England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man'.
Nugee J went no further than to say that the evidence led him to 'conclude that it is possible that laymen might regard the United Kingdom as extending to include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man'. He concluded that he was 'entirely satisfied on the facts which have been put before me that Mr Crowley-Milling did intend to include the offshore accounts in his 2006 Will and hence in his 2009 Will'.
The Royal Court in Jersey has reached similar conclusions in the past in Re Reid, in Re Estate El-Kaisi, and in Re Estate Krishnan.
Nugee further found that, had he not been able to find for The Royal Society on construction, he would have given permission for an application to rectify out of time (our charity client wasn't notified until more than a year after probate was issued that there was a problem on the face of the will) and would have rectified the will so as to amend the offending clause to read 'situated at my death in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or Isle of Man'.