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Trusts, probate and estates: contentious | High Court of JusticeWednesday 26 January 2022

Goodrich v AB [2022] EWHC 81 (Ch)

Judgment has been handed down in Goodrich v AB [2022] EWHC 81 (Ch).

A decision of Chief Master Shuman, this case is an important decision concerning the construction of settlements created prior to the Human Rights Act 1998, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Following an application brought by the trustees of two employee trusts seeking approval to complete a share buyout under Public Trustee v Cooper principles, which approval was given in February 2020, the trustees sought directions concerning, inter alia, the construction of the terms “spouses” and “children” contained in a settlement deed dated April 1990.  The Court determined that (i) civil partners and same-sex spouses were included within the beneficial class but (ii) step-children were excluded.

The judgment considers the approach to construction of employee trusts given their commercial purposes.  The Chief Master also considered whether it was possible to read down the CPA 2004 and the MSSCA 2013 compatibly with ECHR Convention rights, specifically articles 8 and 14, to eliminate potentially discriminatory outcomes between spouses and civil partners and between opposite sex and same sex spouses in older settlements.

This is an important decision for those considering the interpretation of older settlements and the impact of human rights legislation upon them.

Simon Atkinson was instructed on behalf of the trustees who, despite being neutral, were directed to advance arguments in support of narrow constructions of these terms in order that the Court had the benefit of full argument.

The judgment can be found here.

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