Clarke v Bruce Lance and Co: CA 1988

The defendant solicitors drafted a will, which the testator executed in 1973. The testator later granted a lease of a service station which had been disposed of in the will, and then granted an option for its purchase at a fixed price, which the solicitors handled. In 1978 the solicitors were retained by the testator to act on his behalf in drawing up a variation to the lease to include an option to purchase in favour of the lessee at a fixed price. The testator died in 1981. By that time the value of the service station had increased substantially. The plaintiff brought an action against the solicitors claiming damages for negligence, contending that the solicitors had breached the duty they owed to the testator, and to the plaintiff beneficiary knowing that his interest would be affected, and to advise the testator that the fixed price option was an uncommercial transaction.Held: A solicitor had no duty of care to a beneficiary when arranging a transaction subsequent to the will which would adversely affect the value of the gifted property.
Balcombe LJ said: ‘If the defendants were under a liability to a potential beneficiary of the property, it cannot have been to the plaintiff alone. As a matter of logic, the plaintiff, at the time of the grant of the option, was in no different a position vis-a-vis the defendants than anyone to whom the testator might have given the property during his lifetime, or to whom it might pass under his will or intestacy. So if the defendants owed a duty to anyone other than their client, the testator, it must have been to the whole of this indeterminate class of potential donees or beneficiaries. It would indeed have exposed them to a liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class.’ He rejected that argument.
. . And ‘Far from the interests of the testator and the plaintiff marching hand in hand, there was an obvious conflict of interest. Supposing the defendants had warned the testator that the option he wished to grant Hoare was improvident from the point of view of the persons who might ultimately become entitled to the property after the testator’s death, then in the context of the fact that the option formed but one term of a larger transaction (the deed of variation) into which the testator wished to enter, he might well have instructed the defendants to go ahead in any event. But if they owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, they would have been bound to try and dissuade him: an intolerable position for any solicitor.’


Balcombe LJ


[1988] 1 All ER 364, [1988] 1 WLR 881, [1989] ANZ Conv R 25, (1988) 85 LSG 37


England and Wales


DistinguishedGartside v Sheffield Young and Ellis 1983
(New Zealand) The court discussed the potential liability of a solicitor having failed to prepare an effective will: ‘To deny an effective remedy in a plain case would seem to imply a refusal to acknowledge the solicitor’s professional role in the . .

Cited by:

CitedDean v Allin and Watts (a Firm) CA 23-May-2001
An unsophisticated lender running the business of a car mechanic wanted to lend money to borrowers on the security of real property owned by an associate of the borrowers. The borrowers instructed the defendant solicitors to give effect to this . .
CitedRind v Theodore Goddard (A Firm) and others ChD 11-Mar-2008
. .
CitedMatthews v Hunter and Robertson Ltd SCS 11-Jun-2008
. .
CitedVinton and Others v Fladgate Fielder (A Firm) and Another ChD 30-Apr-2010
. .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Professional Negligence, Wills and Probate

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.188810