• In the case of Allcard v Skinner [1877] 36 Ch. D. 145, it was held that where a donor is unduly influenced by a donee, the gift will be voidable. This requires that the relations between the donor and the donee before the gift’s execution must raise a presumption that the donee has influence over the donor, and the court is satisfied that the gift was the result of influence expressly used by the donee.

Facts of the Case

  • In 1868, C was introduced to D, lady superior of a sisterhood, and became an associate of the sisterhood.
  • In 1871, C became a professed member of the sisterhood and bound herself to observe the rules of poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • The rule of poverty required members to give up all property either to relatives, the poor or to the sisterhood itself, but the forms used were in favour of the sisterhood.
  • The rule of obedience required members to regard the voice of their superior as the voice of God. The rules also entailed that no sister should seek advice of anyone external to the sisterhood without the superior’s leave.
  • C made a will leaving all her property to D. In 1872 and 1874, C handed over to D large sums of money, considerable property, and railway stock.
  • In May 1879, C left the sisterhood and revoked her will. In 1885, C commenced action against D arguing the property should be returned due to undue influence.

Issues

  • Did the relationship between a mother superior and a sister give rise to the presumption of undue influence?

Held by the Court of Appeal

  • Finding for D, that the relationship between D and C gave rise to the presumption of undue influence. However, C was barred from restitution due to the time taken for C to bring action against D.

Lindley L.J.

  • The fetter placed on C was the result of her own free choice. Though infatuated with the life and the work, there is no evidence that C was in a state that would justify interference arguing she was unable to take care of herself.
  • The rule against obtaining advice from externs with the lady superior’s consent invites suspicion. It is evidently capable of being used in a tyrannical way.
  • Undue influence cases may be subdivided into two groups, which often overlap. First, there are the cases in which there has been some unfair and improper conduct and generally some personal advantage obtained by the donee, placed in some close and confidential relation to the donor.
  • Secondly, there are cases where the position of the donor to the donee imposes a duty on the donee to advise the donor or even manage their property. In these cases the donor carries the burden of providing they have not abused their position.
  • The doctrine of undue influence is founded on the principle of saving people from being forced, misled or tricked into giving up their property. It is not to allow the foolish or reckless to recover what they give away through their own folly.
  • “No Court has ever attempted to define undue influence, which includes one of its many varieties. The undue influence which Courts of Equity endeavour to defeat is the undue influence of one person over another; not the influence of enthusiasm on the enthusiast who is carried away by it, unless indeed such enthusiasm is itself the result of external undue influence. But the influence of one mind over another is very subtle, and of all influences religious influence is the most dangerous and the most powerful, and to counteract it Courts of Equity have gone very far. They have not shrunk from setting aside gifts made to persons in a position to exercise undue influence over the donors, although there has been no proof of the actual exercise of such influence; and the Courts have done this on the avowed ground of the necessity of going this length in order to protect persons from the exercise of such influence under circumstances which render proof of it impossible. The Courts have required proof of its non-exercise, and, failing that proof, have set aside gifts otherwise unimpeachable” [183].
  • While there is no proof of undue influence, C was absolutely in the power of D due to her deep religious views and the vows already made. The inevitable result of D’s position over C raises the presumption of undue influence. The rule against consulting externs is so damning due to the ease of abusing it.