Williams & Glyn's Bank v Boland [1980]

Williams & Glyn's Bank v Boland [1980] UKHL 4 is a significant House of Lords judgment in English land law and trusts law, particularly concerning family co-ownership and an occupier's potentially overriding interests in a home.

Michael Boland and his wife Julia Sheila Boland lived in a house owned by Michael Boland who had borrowed money from Williams & Glyn's Bank for his building company, and when he failed to repay, the bank sought possession of the property. Mrs Boland argued that her substantial financial contributions to acquiring the home entitled her to stay, claiming a property right in the house. The bank countered by asserting that her rights did not qualify as a property right, and even if they did, the bank's registered charge took precedence over her unregistered right.

The case went through multiple levels of the court system. In the High Court, Templeman J at the first instance ruled against Mrs Boland, stating that she was not in actual occupation and her claim failed. On appeal, the Court of Appeal held in favour of Mrs Boland, stating that she was in actual occupation under section 70(1)(g) of the Land Registration Act 1925, giving her an overriding interest in the property. Lord Denning MR emphasised that a wife could be in actual occupation, challenging the notion that her occupation was merely a shadow of her husband's.

The House of Lords upheld the Court of Appeal's decision, rejecting the bank's application for possession. Lord Wilberforce, delivering the leading judgment, held that the words actual occupation in the Land Registration Act 1925 should be interpreted plainly and did not require anything more than physical presence. He refuted the idea that a husband's occupation precluded the wife's and emphasised the importance of recognising the rights of a spouse under a trust for sale as overriding interests.

Lord Wilberforce addressed the argument against recognising a spouse's rights as overriding interests based on the structure of the Land Registration Act 1925. He acknowledged the complexity but concluded that if the interests of co-owners were protected by actual occupation, they should acquire the status of overriding interests. The judgment emphasised the evolving nature of property rights, the changing role of spouses, and the need for lenders to make inquiries about a spouse's interest in the property to avoid turning a blind eye to their rights.

In summary, this case clarified the interpretation of actual occupation and affirmed the recognition of a spouse's rights under a trust for sale as overriding interests, providing protection in cases of possession claims by lenders.
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