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Standstill Agreements – update

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The Court of Appeal has now considered again the high-profile case of Cowan v Foreman which was decided by Mostyn J in March of this year.

At the hearing of the case originally the Judge took a hard line against the use by solicitors of “standstill agreements” in Will disputes – agreements between lawyers that allowed the parties to agree to delay the issue of proceedings.

The decision by the Court to disallow the use of such agreements sent solicitors into panic and forced the issue of proceedings in all cases where time was about to run out.

Now the Court of Appeal has ruled that Will disputes issued out of time should be considered on a case-by-case basis, disagreeing with the lower Court’s determination on the interpretation of standstill agreements in Will disputes.

Considering this point specifically the Court of Appeal has overturned the original judgment, with Asplin LJ saying Mostyn J was “plainly wrong to come to the conclusion he did” and giving permission to Mrs Cowan for her to pursue the Inheritance Act claim against her husband’s £16m estate.

The ruling will be a relief to litigation lawyers who use standstill agreements to avoid the risk of being rushed into Court proceedings.  It can often be necessary to piece together quite a lot of information before a claim’s merits can be determined by the parties, a process that can take more time than the current 6 months allowed by the law.  Similarly, parties wishing to explore a negotiated settlement of a claim can find standstill agreements useful in taking the heat out of the process to allow time to mediate.

If you need any advice on challenging a Will please contact our Specialist Team