Vulnerable accident victims who receive large compensation awards are sometimes prone to uninformed financial decision-making and, as an Upper Tribunal (UT) decision underlined, they are amongst those most in need of professional assistance.
The case concerned a woman who received £300,000 in compensation following an accident in which she was seriously injured. She said that a substantial part of that sum had been spent on purchasing a home which was placed in the names of the father of her two children and his partner. She subsequently registered a unilateral notice at the Land Registry which had the effect of preventing the couple from selling the property. She did so on the basis that she was its beneficial owner.
The man denied that she had any interest in the property. He asserted that she had received independent legal advice before making a gift of the money with no strings attached. He said that the money had in any event not been spent on purchasing the property. He applied to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for the removal of the unilateral notice so that the property's sale could proceed. His application succeeded after the FTT struck out the woman's defence on the basis that she had failed to comply with an order requiring her to lodge a coherent statement of her case.
Upholding her challenge to that outcome, the UT noted that two lengthy emails she had sent to the FTT were very obviously the work of a litigant in person, rather than a qualified lawyer. Their contents were highly emotional, poorly structured and difficult to follow. They nevertheless told her story and the UT found that they were sufficient to constitute a statement of her case.
If her untested account of events were true, she was at risk of losing a property that had been bought with her money. The removal of the notice might work an injustice, leading to the irrecoverable loss of a substantial part of her compensation. It could also be argued that the money had been transferred in breach of trust. In those circumstances, the FTT's decision to strike out her defence was irrational.
The UT reinstated her case and directed that the unilateral notice should remain on the register pending resolution of the dispute. The UT expressed the hope that all those involved would obtain legal representation prior to the full hearing of the matter, which was likely to be transferred to a county court.