Reaping what you sow: Thrings wins High Court battle for farmer's son

Robert James, specialist agriculture litigator at Thrings and Leslie Blohm QC, chancery barrister at St John’s Chambers, have won a multi-million pound proprietary estoppel case in the High Court for the claimant, a farmer’s son.

The claimant, one of three children and the only child to have dedicated his life to the family farm, had been promised the ‘lion’s share’ of the business for a number of decades. When his father handed his interest in the farm and company to another brother – a developer - in 2014, he decided to challenge the decision.

The farming son was backed by his mother who had also understood the intentions of her spouse, and her own, to be that he would be the primary inheritor. Deeming her husband‘s decision unjust, the mother handed her share of the business to the son who had worked for low wages on the farm for 38 years. The farming son had also been ‘on call’ and clocked up significant overtime – which went unpaid - for those four decades.

Despite this dedication and repeated indications from his father that he was to take on the business, the father and brother denied that any such promises were made.

Examining family members, business partners and family friends over a week-long trial, Mr Justice Birss ruled in favour of the farming son. The exact division of the farming assets will be decided in a second hearing later this summer.

Challenging succession plans while one or two parents are still alive can be difficult. A lot can depend on the evidence and how this interplays with what is an evolving body of technical case law within the agriculture sector- but the test can prove worthwhile.

If you would like to know more about the case or have a query relating to an agricultural dispute, please contact Robert James or the specialist Agricultural team.

To read our guide to succession planning, please click here.

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