A husband and wife had each executed the will which had been prepared for the other, owing to an oversight on the part of their solicitor; the question which arose was whether the will of the husband, who died after his wife, was valid. The parties disputed whether the will have been validly executed, and in particular whether a rectification could be ordered under the 1982 Act where the original document did not itself meet the requirements of the 1837 Act.
Held: The wife’s appeal succeeded. A rectification could be and was ordered. The solicitor’s error in handing over the wrong will for execution was a ‘clerical error’ within section 20(1)(a).
‘save where section 21(1) applies, a will is to be interpreted in the same way as any other document, but, in addition, in relation to a will, or a provision in a will, to which section 21(1) applies, it is possible to assist its interpretation by reference to evidence of the testator’s actual intention (eg by reference to what he told the drafter of the will, or another person, or by what was in any notes he made or earlier drafts of the will which he may have approved or caused to be prepared). ‘
As to wholesale rectification: ‘As a general proposition, there may be force in the point that the greater the extent of the correction sought, the steeper the task for a claimant who is seeking rectification. However, I can see no reason in principle why a wholesale correction should be ruled out as a permissible exercise of the court’s power to rectify, as a matter of principle. On the contrary: to impose such a restriction on the power of rectification would be unprincipled – and it would also lead to uncertainty. ‘
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury PSC said: ‘During the past 40 years, the House of Lords and Supreme Court have laid down the correct approach to the interpretation, or construction, of commercial contracts in a number of cases . .
When interpreting a contract, the court is concerned to find the intention of the party or parties, and it does this by identifying the meaning of the relevant words, (a) in the light of (i) the natural and ordinary meaning of those words, (ii) the overall purpose of the document, (iii) any other provisions of the document, (iv) the facts known or assumed by the parties at the time that the document was executed, and (v) common sense, but (b) ignoring subjective evidence of any party’s intentions. In this connection, see Prenn, at pp 1384-1386 and Reardon Smith Line Ltd v Yngvar Hansen-Tangen (trading as H E Hansen-Tangen)  1 WLR 989 , per Lord Wilberforce, Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA v Ali  1 AC 251, para 8, per Lord Bingham of Cornhill, and the survey of more recent authorities in Rainy Sky, per Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony JSC, at paras 21-30.’
Lord Neuberger, President, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption, Lord Carnwath, Lord Hodge
 UKSC 2,  2 WLR 213,  WTLR 299, 16 ITELR 642,  1 All ER 807,  WLR(D) 18,  Fam Law 466, UKSC 2012/0057
Bailii, Bailii Summary, WLRD, SC Summary, SC
Wills Act 1837 9, Administration of Justice Act 1982 2091)(a)
England and Wales
At First Instance – Marley v Rawlings and Another ChD 3-Feb-2011
A married couple had purported to make mirror wills, but by mistake had each executed the will of the other. Rectification was now sought.
Held: The will did not comply with the 1837 Act and should not be admitted to probate. The testator had . .
Cited – Prenn v Simmonds HL 1971
Backgroun Used to Construe Commercial Contract
Commercial contracts are to be construed in the light of all the background information which could reasonably have been expected to have been available to the parties in order to ascertain what would objectively have been understood to be their . .
Cited – Reardon Smith Line Ltd v Yngvar Hansen-Tangen (The ‘Diana Prosperity’) HL 1976
In construing a contract, three principles can be found. The contextual scene is always relevant. Secondly, what is admissible as a matter of the rules of evidence under this heading is what is arguably relevant, but admissibility is not decisive. . .
Cited – Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA v Ali, Khan and others (No 1); BCCI v Ali HL 1-Mar-2001
Cere Needed Releasing Future Claims
A compromise agreement which appeared to claim to settle all outstanding claims between the employee and employer, did not prevent the employee later claiming for stigma losses where, at the time of the agreement, the circumstances which might lead . .
Cited – Rainy Sky Sa and Others v Kookmin Bank SC 2-Nov-2011
Commercial Sense Used to Interpret Contract
The Court was asked as to the role of commercial good sense in the construction of a term in a contract which was open to alternative interpretations.
Held: The appeal succeeded. In such a case the court should adopt the more, rather than the . .
Appeal from – Marley v Rawlings and Another CA 2-Feb-2012
Mr and Mrs Rawlings had made wills in substantially similar format, but, mistakenly, they each executed the will intended for the other. After Mr Rawling died, the family disputed whether he had made a will. Mrs Rawling applied for rectification of . .
Cited – Boyes v Cook CA 1880
When construing a will, , extrinsic evidence is admissible not only to remove ambiguity in the language used, but to establish the testator’s situation at the time of the will and the context in which he expressed his testamentary intention. James . .
Cited – Catnic Components Ltd and Another v Hill and Smith Ltd HL 1982
The plaintiffs had been established as market leaders with their patented construction, had ample production capacity and stocks, but had never granted any licence under their patent. The patent was for a novel type of galvanised steel lintel, which . .
Cited – Arbuthnott v Fagan CA 30-Jul-1993
The court considered the proper approach to construction of the terms in a contract. Sir Thomas Bingham MR said: ‘Courts will never construe words in a vacuum. To a greater or lesser extent, depending on the subject matter, they will wish to be . .
Cited – Kirin-Amgen Inc and others v Hoechst Marion Roussel Limited and others etc HL 21-Oct-2004
The claims arose in connection with the validity and alleged infringement of a European Patent on erythropoietin (‘EPO’).
Held: ‘Construction is objective in the sense that it is concerned with what a reasonable person to whom the utterance . .
Cited – Harter v Harter 1873
Cited – In the Goods of Oswald 17-Feb-1874
The deceased made a will with two codicils and a later will with a clause of revocation. Probate was sought in respect of all four of the documents ‘as together containing the will of the deceased, excluding from the last the clause of revocation.’ . .
Cited – In the Goods of Hunt 1875
Two sisters had made similar, but not mirror, wills and by mistake each executed that of the other.
Held: The will was invalid. Sir J Hannen said ‘A paper has been signed as this lady’s will, which, as it happens, if treated as her will, would . .
Cited – In the Goods of Boehm 1891
It was proved that a mistake had occurred in a clause giving a pecuniary legacy. The testator had intended one person to be named as the legatee, and by a mistake the draftsman had substituted the name of another. The testator was led to execute the . .
Cited – Re Meyer 1908
Two sisters made mirror codicils to their wills but each then executed that of the other sister.
Held: The dispositions contained in them were invalid.
Sir Gorell Barnes P said: ‘But it is quite clear that this lady, though her . .
Cited – In re Hawksley’s Settlement; Black v Tidy 1934
A second will was described as the last will and moreover referred to the first will as the cancelled will, the testatrix having written on a copy of it the word ‘cancelled’.
Held: Neither feature was sufficient to effect a complete revocation . .
Cited – Re Resch’s Will Trusts; Vera Caroline Le Crasv Perpetual Trustee Company Limited PC 19-Oct-1967
(New South Wales) The testator left a series of testamentary provisions including gifts which worked cumulatively. Lord Wilberforce discussed the breadth of evidence admissible in the probate court: ‘The principles which ought to be applied on such . .
Cited – In re Reynette-James dec’d, Wightman v ChD 1976
A court does not have power to rectify a will. . .
Cited – Re Butlin’s Settlement Trusts 1976
Sir Billy Butlin had executed a voluntary settlement to allow a majority of trustees to exercise a power under the settlement. By a drafting error the settlement did not give effect to this intention.
Held: The court could rectify the . .
Cited – Britoil plc v Hunt Overseas Oil Inc CA 1994
After the failure of the attempt by the Texan oil tycoon, Nelson Bunker Hunt, in the 1970s to corner the world silver market, his fortune collapsed and his companies were forced to sell off assets. In 1979 two of those companies (the defendants in . .
Cited – Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society HL 19-Jun-1997
Account taken of circumstances wihout ambiguity
The respondent gave advice on home income plans. The individual claimants had assigned their initial claims to the scheme, but later sought also to have their mortgages in favour of the respondent set aside.
Held: Investors having once . .
Cited – Re Williams Deceased, Wiles v Madgin ChD 1985
A testator writing out his own will can make a clerical error just as much as someone else writing out a will for him. ‘In passing, I note that there is no claim for rectification in the present case. It was suggested in the course of argument that . .
Cited – Mannai Investment Co Ltd v Eagle Star Assurance HL 21-May-1997
Minor Irregularity in Break Notice Not Fatal
Leases contained clauses allowing the tenant to break the lease by serving not less than six months notice to expire on the third anniversary of the commencement date of the term of the lease. The tenant gave notice to determine the leases on 12th . .
Cited – Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd and Others HL 1-Jul-2009
Mutual Knowledge admissible to construe contract
The parties had entered into a development contract in respect of a site in Wandsworth, under which balancing compensation was to be paid. They disagreed as to its calculation. Persimmon sought rectification to reflect the negotiations.
Held: . .
Cited – Bell v Georgiou and Another ChD 28-May-2002
Blackburne J discussed what would amount to a clerical error so as to allow rectification: ‘The essence of the matter is that a clerical error occurs when someone, who may be the testator himself, or his solicitor, or a clerk or a typist, writes . .
Cited – Rawstron and Another (Executrices of The Estate of Lucian Freud) v Freud ChD 30-Jul-2014
The court considered the construction of a point in the deceased’s will. The clause said: ‘I GIVE all the residue of my estate (out of which shall be paid my funeral and testamentary expenses and my debts) and any property over which I have a . .
Cited – Richards v Wood CA 27-Feb-2014
The defendants had purchased their council house with financial asistance from their son, the claimant. He now asserted that a trust existed in the property in his favour.
Held: ‘unless there is a secure tenancy the statutory right to buy . .
Main Judgment – Marley v Rawlings and Another (2) SC 18-Sep-2014
The parties had disputed the validity of a will, and the successful wife of the deceased argued that her costs should be paid by those challenging the will rather than from the estate.
Held: The solicitors (or their insurers) who had made the . .
Cited – Guthrie v Morel and Others ChD 5-Nov-2015
The will had failed clearly to identify a property in Spain the subject of a bequest.
Held: Summary judgment was given. ‘It seems to me to be clear that the deceased intended by his Will to deal with his entire estate and that he intended the . .
Cited – Jump and Another v Lister and Another ChD 12-Aug-2016
Omnibus Survivorship Clauses
Wills for two people hade been drafted with survivorship clauses which provided for others according to the order in which they died, but in the event, having died together it had been impossible to say which died first. The parties disputed the . .
Cited – FSHC Group Holdings Ltd v Glas Trust Corporation Ltd CA 31-Jul-2019
Rectification – Chartbrook not followed
Opportunity for an appellate court to clarify the correct test to apply in deciding whether the written terms of a contract may be rectified because of a common mistake.
Held: The appeal failed. The judge was right to conclude that an . .
Cited – Lehman Brothers International (Europe) v Exotix Partners Llp ChD 9-Sep-2019
The parties had contracted to trade global depository notes issued by the Peruvian government. Each made mistakes as to their true value, thinking them scraps worth a few thousand dollars, whereas their true value was over $8m. On the defendant . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 12 March 2021; Ref: scu.520062