Will disputes and undue influence: an evidential victory

The recent case of Harrison v Greenwood (2023) provides a rare example of victory in a type of claim which is notoriously difficult to win: an allegation of undue influence in relation to a disputed will.

This article was written by Sophia Smout, Trainee Solicitor, and was originally posted to the Hunters website.

In many of these cases, evidence of a third party’s undue influence over the deceased will be only too obvious to the deceased’s friends and family, but often the alleged acts will have taken place behind closed doors, with the only witnesses being the accused and the deceased.

In Harrison v Greenwood, video transcripts from cameras installed in the late Mrs Harrison’s property by her daughter provided sufficient evidence for the court to find that there had been undue influence, despite the fact that Mr Greenwood was unaware that he was being filmed.

Following cases such as Singh v Singh & Ors [2016] EWHC 1432 (Ch), it seems that there may be a growing willingness on the part of the courts to accept even covertly-obtained footage as evidence in civil proceedings, despite the potential human rights and data protection issues which might be associated with doing so.

Even where footage is unlawfully obtained, the court does not have the power to exclude it on that basis alone, although it may exercise its discretion to exclude it where there is a concern that admitting the evidence may compromise a just outcome.

It remains to be seen whether evidence of this nature will become a universal feature of future undue influence claims, but it seems that in this case, the court was satisfied that adducing the evidence was, in itself, fundamental to a just outcome for the claimant and the deceased.

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