18 November 2013

[2013] EWHC 3566 (Ch)

High Court, Chancery Division (Sir Terence Etherton C)

Whether English proceedings in a succession dispute should be stayed onforum non conveniens grounds in favour of the Italian courts.

Lord Lambton, the father of the Claimant and the Defendants, died in 2006. By his will he left all his real and personal estate to the Claimant.  Lord Lambton had resided in Italy for the last thirty odd years of his life and in 2003 had made a Statutory Declaration that his domicile was Italy.  Under Italian law, two thirds of Lord Lambton’s estate is shared equally among his six children.  Further, under Italian law the value of his estate is calculated by adding back in the value of lifetime gifts, thereby increasing it significantly.

The Claimant commenced proceedings in England seeking five declarations as to the effect of lifetime gifts, and rights under the Inheritance Act 1975. The Defendants, three of the five sisters, made an application under CPR 11 for a declaration that the court should not exercise its jurisdiction to hear the claim on forum non conveniens grounds.  They also commenced proceedings in Italy seeking to establish their rights to their reserved share and to determine its nature and extent.  As the dispute related to succession, it was outside the scope of the Brussels 1 Regulation on jurisdiction and judgments.

On balance, and despite the ‘powerful case’ made by the Defendants and their ‘formidable submissions’, on the basis of amendments made overnight during the course of the hearing the Court allowed the Claimant to proceed in England but limited the claim to assets, the transfers of which are governed by English law, and gave him a further opportunity to remedy the deficiencies in his case, ordering him to particularise his case further.  In recognition of this the Defendants were awarded the majority of their costs.

This case considers highly topical issues relating to the clash between English testamentary freedom and countries which have forced heirship, in particular clawback provisions, as well as interesting problems onrenvoi.  Jessica Hughes of XXIV Old Buildings was the junior for the Defendants.