Lowson v Coombes [1999] Ch. 373

Resulting Trust – Property – Sole Owner – Inheritance – Common Intention – Beneficial Interest – Trust – Illegality - Equity


Mr Lowson and Ms Coombes were a couple who purchased a house together. They were not married, as Mr Lowson was still married to his ex-partner. In light of this, the defendant conveyed the house only in her name as the sole owner. Ms Coombes had agreed with Mr Lowson to do this, as she feared that if he died, his wife would inherit the property and she would be left homeless.


The trial judge had dismissed the claim that Ms Coombes held the property on trust for the complainant in equal shares. This decision was appealed and the issue in this case was who would be the beneficial owner of the property they used to live in together.


The appeal was allowed and it was held that Ms Coombes would hold 50 per cent of the beneficial interest in the property on a resulting trust for the complainant. It was stated that the clean hands doctrine normally means that ‘he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands’; in other words, equity would not help someone who had carried out the action with an illegal purpose. The judge had held that despite the illegality of trying to stop the wife from inheriting the house, Mr Lowson would still have beneficial interest in the property. The intention of Mr Lowson and Ms Coombes would have led to the same result even if there were no illegality.