Oral Contracts And An Appellate Court’s Approach To Findings Of Fact

BLYTH & ANOR V NELSONS SOLICITORS LTD [2019] EWHC 2063 (QB)

The appellants in this case are former clients of the respondent firm of solicitors. They alleged that in the course of a contentious probate dispute concerning the will and estate of their late father, an oral agreement had been reached between themselves and their solicitors to cap their legal costs to those set out in their Precedent H costs budget.

At first instance Master Whalan (costs judge) found that there had been no such agreement.

This was upheld on appeal by Mr Justice Stewart.

The decision provides a useful examination of the law and principles governing both:

  • an appellate court’s approach to findings of fact; and
  • contractual interpretation, specifically in relation to alleged oral agreements.

“…where a trial judge has reached a conclusion on the primary facts, it is only in a rare case, such as where the conclusion was one (i) which there was no evidence to support, (ii) which was based on a misunderstanding of the evidence, or (iii) which no reasonable judge could have reached, that an appellate tribunal will interfere with it.”

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“Determining the terms of an oral contract is a question of fact. Establishing the facts will usually, as here, depend upon the recollections of the parties and other witnesses. The accuracy of those recollections may be tested and elucidated by things said and done by the parties or witnesses after the agreement has been concluded.”

BLYTH & ANOR V NELSONS SOLICITORS LTD [2019] EWHC 2063 (QB)