Allcard v Skinner [1887]

Allcard v Skinner [1887] 36 Ch D 145 addressed the issue of undue influence within the context of a relationship between Miss Allcard and Miss Skinner, a lady superior of a Protestant religious order known as the Sisters of the Poor.

Miss Allcard was introduced to Miss Skinner by the Reverend Mr Nihill, and shortly thereafter, Miss Allcard became a member of the religious order. The order required members to adhere to vows of poverty and obedience. Merely three days after joining, Miss Allcard executed a will bequeathing all her property to Miss Skinner. Additionally, she transferred railway stock that came into her possession in 1872 and 1874 to Miss Skinner. After leaving the sisterhood, Miss Allcard sought to reclaim the money she had given.

Lindley LJ delivered the judgment, stating that Miss Allcard was unduly influenced but was barred by laches from obtaining restitution. Laches refers to an unreasonable delay in pursuing a legal remedy, and in this case, it played a role in limiting Miss Allcard's ability to seek restitution. Even if restitution were possible, it would only have been for the portion of the gift that remained in Miss Skinner's possession after being spent in accordance with Miss Allcard's wishes.

Lord Lindley articulated the principle underlying the doctrine of undue influence. He posited two possible principles: one focused on saving individuals from the consequences of their own folly, while the other aimed to protect them from being victimised by others. In Lord Lindley's view, the doctrine of undue influence is rooted in the latter principle. Courts of Equity, he argued, do not set aside gifts based on the donor's folly or imprudence. The courts repudiate any jurisdiction that encourages the reclaiming of property disposed of foolishly. However, the doctrine of undue influence is legitimate in protecting individuals from being coerced, tricked, or misled by others into parting with their property.

Cotton LJ added further clarification, identifying two scenarios where undue influence might be established: first, when the court is satisfied that the gift resulted from express influence used by the donee; and second, when the relations between the donor and donee raise a presumption that the donee had influence over the donor, particularly at or around the time of the gift's execution. The case illustrates the court's careful consideration of the circumstances surrounding the gift and the nature of the relationship between the parties in determining whether undue influence was at play.
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