National Westminster Bank plc v Lucas & ors [2014] EWHC 653 (Ch)

WTLR Issue: May 2014 #139

In the matter of: THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE ESTATE OF JIMMY SAVILE

NATIONAL WESTMINSTER BANK PLC

V

1. LUKE LUCAS

2. ROGER BODLEY

3. P1

4. DENISE COLES

5. AMANDA McKENNA

6. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR HEALTH

7.BBC

Analysis

The television presenter Jimmy Savile (the deceased) died on 29 October 2011. His estate had an approximate value of £3.3m after the deduction of various expenses incurred by the date of this hearing. By his will, the deceased appointed National Westminster Bank plc (the bank) to act as his personal representative. The deceased’s will makes gifts to a number of individual beneficiaries, one of which was the fifth defendant, the deceased’s niece, who was appointed to represent the interests of these individual beneficiaries (the individual beneficiaries). Thereafter the deceased’s residuary estate was bequeathed to the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust (the trust).

Following a documentary broadcasted on 4 October 2012, in which the deceased was accused of having been a serial child abuser and sex offender, a large number of people had come forward to make claims that they were abused and consequently intimated personal injury claims against the deceased’s estate and against various third party defendants – the BBC, certain NHS hospital trusts and the charities Bernardo’s and Mind – which they contended were vicariously liable in tort. Should these intimated claims have been substantiated, there was a serious possibility that they would exhaust the assets remaining in the estate. However, the trust and the individual beneficiaries maintained that if these intimated claims were properly scrutinised a substantial part of the estate might have remained available for distribution to them pursuant to the deceased’s will.

Accordingly, the court was asked: (1) by the trustees of the trust, supported by the individual beneficiaries, to substitute the bank for a new professional executor pursuant to s50 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985; (2) by the bank (a) to determine whether a proposed scheme designed to assess and quickly and inexpensively resolve the personal injury claims intimated against the estate (the scheme) was a suitable proposal in the circumstances and (b) to ratify various expenses incurred by the bank in administrating the estate, including substantial legal expenses incurred in responding to the personal injury claims intimated.

The scheme provided for a set time-scale and procedure for the bank to consider whether to accept or reject any claim notified to the estate within 12 months from the date of the scheme’s advertisement, after which the estate would be distributed. It did not oblige anyone to settle a claim, but rather tried to achieve as much clarity as possible, as quickly as possible and at the least expense possible so as to enable the bank to make an application with good prospects of success for the court’s approval of payments to be made from the estate.

Held:

Dismissing the trust’s application to remove the bank as executor, approving the scheme and granting validation of the expenses sought by the bank –

  1. 1) It was lawful and reasonable, and in line with the judicial indication given to the bank at a previous hearing (reported at [2013] EWHC 770 (Ch)), that the bank assessed it should enter into the scheme in the complex and unusual situation which confronted the estate. The scheme itself was consistent with the proper administration of the estate: it was a sensible and pragmatic attempt at achieving a fair balance between scrutiny of the claims made, while minimising the costs of this exercise and seeking to maximise the distributable estate.
  2. 2) It would not have been appropriate for the court to have removed the bank as executor unless there was a real risk that it would not act fairly and conscientiously in that office or if the bank could not have be expected to continue to carry out the administration in an effective and proper manner. The trust and the individual beneficiaries failed to show that, in negotiating the scheme and in asking the court for approval to implement it, the bank had acted or would act in any way unreasonably or without fair and proper regard to the interests which ought to be taken into account in deciding how the estate should be administered. The fact that the bank was a neutral and impartial executor of good repute, that it was willing to act without charge, its track record in effectively negotiating with the personal injury claimants and third party defendants and the continued need for cooperation between these parties were strong indicators that the bank had and would continue to act appropriately. Moreover, friction between the bank and the trust and/or the individual beneficiaries was not on its own a sufficient reason for the bank’s replacement, particularly as no cooperation between these parties was necessary to operate the scheme or duly administer the estate.
  3. 3) It was appropriate to allow the expenses incurred in the ordinary course of the estate’s administration and to make a validation order for the purposes of the insolvency regime in relation to the legal expenses involved in dealing with intimated personal injury claims, disputes arising during the estate’s administration and with the scheme’s negotiation.
JUDGMENT SALES J: Introduction [1] These proceedings relate to the administration of the estate of Jimmy Savile, the television presenter. Jimmy Savile died on 29 October 2011. The current value of his estate, after allowing for a range of expenses that have been incurred, is about £3.3m. [2] Jimmy Savile left a will. The executor …
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Counsel Details

Mark Cunningham QC (Maitland Chambers, 7 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2A 3SZ, tel 020 7406 1200, e-mail clerks@maitlandchambers.com), instructed by Osborne Clarke (2 Temple Back East, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6EG, tel 0117 917 3000, e-mail enquiries@osborneclarke.com) for the claimant.


Teresa Rosen Peacocke (3 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3XL, tel 020 7242 4937, e-mail clerks@3sb.law.co.uk), instructed by PWT Advice LLP (60 Cannon Street, London EC4N 6NP, tel 0845 833 9025, e-mail info@pwtadvice.co.uk) for the trustees.


Piers Feltham (Radcliffe Chambers, 11 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn London WC2A 3QB, tel 020 7831 0081, e-mail clerks@radcliffechambers.com), Justin Levinson and Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC (both 1 Crown Office Row, Temple, London EC4Y 7HH, tel 020 7797 7500, e-mail mail@1cor.com), instructed by Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP (50-52 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HL, tel 020 7657 1555, e-mail enquiries@slatergordon.co.uk) for the third and fourth defendants.


Andrew Cosedge (3 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3XL, tel 020 7242 4937, e-mail clerks@3sb.law.co.uk), instructed by PWT Advice LLP (60 Cannon Street, London EC4N 6NP, tel 0845 833 9025, e-mail info@pwtadvice.co.uk) for the fifth defendant.


Neil Block QC (39 Essex Street, London WC2R 3AT, tel 020 7832 1111, e-mail clerks@39essex.com) instructed by Capsticks LLP (1 St George’s Road, Wimbledon, London SW19 4DR, tel 020 8780 2211, e-mail info@capsticks.co.uk) for the sixth defendant.


Andrew Warnock QC and Andrew Spencer (1 Chancery Lane, 1 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1LF, tel 0845 634 66 66, e-mail clerks@1chancerylane.com), instructed by DAC Beachcroft LLP (100 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BN, tel 020 7242 1011, e-mail info@dacbeachcroft.com) for the seventh defendant.

Legislation Referenced

  • Administration of Insolvent Estates of Deceased Persons Order 1986, Art 3
  • Administration of Justice Act 1985, s50
  • Civil Procedure Rules 1998
  • Insolvency Act: 1986
  • Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992
  • Trustee Act 1925, s27