Christodoulides v Marcou [2017] (High Court) – Fraudulent Calumny

‘The calumny must induce the change in the testator’s intentions. The challenger must prove that on the balance of probabilities. If it is possible that the calumny did induce the change, but the court is not persuaded on the balance of probabilities that it did induce the change, the challenge will fail. If there are other possibilities or other explanations and those other explanations persuade the court to find on the balance of probabilities that the calumny did not induce the change, the claim will fail.’ Christodoulides v Marcou [2017].

  • The concept of fraudulent calumny
  • The facts in Christodoulides v Marcou
  • Pleading fraudulent calumny
  • The burden of proof
  • The correct test of causation or inducement
  • Conclusion

The concept of fraudulent calumny

The basic concept of fraudulent calumny is that if ‘A’ poisons the testator’s (‘T’s’) mind against ‘B’, who would otherwise be a natural beneficiary of T’s bounty, by casting dishonest aspersions on his character, then the will is liable to be set aside.

The essence of fraudulent calumny is that the person alleged to have been poisoning T‘s mind must either know that the aspersions are false or not care whether they are true or false. If a person believes that he is telling the truth about a potential beneficiary then even if what he tells T is objectively untrue, the will is not liable to be set aside on that ground alone (Re Edwards [2007]).

The facts in Christodoulides v Marcou

In Christodoulides v Marcou [2017] (High Court) (Chancery Division) 26/10.2017, the facts were that, ‘By [her] will, [T] appointed [A] to be her executor and the trustee of the will. Under the will, after payment of any debts and expenses, the entire residuary estate was left to [A]. Clause 3 of the will contained a declaration by [T] that she had not made any provision in the will for [B]. [A] issued these proceedings [asking] the court to pronounce for the will in solemn form. [B] defended the claim by alleging that the will was procured by the fraud of [A] practised on her mother. The conventional legal phrase for such a plea is that there was a fraudulent calumny. [B] alleged that [A] committed a fraudulent calumny of her to her mother and as a result the mother made no provision for [B] in the mother’s will. [B] counterclaimed a declaration that the will was invalid and there being no other valid will that [T] had died intestate. [A] served a Reply and Defence to Counterclaim. In relation to [B’s] case that there had been a fraudulent calumny, [A’s] Reply pleaded:

“The elements of a claim in fraudulent calumny is that the person alleged to have committed fraud has poisoned the mind of the testatrix by casting untruthful aspersions about, or making untruthful allegations against, other potential beneficiaries, which caused the discretion and will of the testatrix to be overborne; and that such aspersions were made either knowing that they were false, or not caring whether they were true or false.”

In assessing [A] and [B] as witnesses the Recorder found, [A] to be a thoroughly dishonest and manipulative individual to whom integrity and truth are less important than achieving what she wants, even when she knows she is not entitled to it’, and that [B] ‘was a calm and sensible witness who dealt with all questions some of which were difficult and personal put to her in a convincing fashion. Her evidence obviously needs to be compared to the contemporaneous documents but there is nothing in that process or her evidence in general which causes me to doubt her evidence. I would observe that although [B] is able to give evidence about what she saw, much of her case must inevitably depend on what was going on between [A] and [T] which [B] did not see or hear. In this respect, evidence other than [B’s] is important.’

Pleading fraudulent calumny

In relation to the pleading of an allegation of fraudulent calumny the Recorder also observed, ‘Any allegation of dishonesty ought, in my view, to be pleaded with the greatest particularity which is possible in the circumstances. The Court must be astute to ensure that any deficiency in the pleading does not cause prejudice to the opposite party in any fashion such as not having the opportunity to prepare or present her case as she may wish if she knew fairly what the allegation is against her… The representations in a calumny case are not made to the claimant and can almost never be pleaded with the same degree of precision or particularity as would be expected in a commercial fraud case. The representee is dead and, if the claim is made good, has gone to his or her grave with the poison having done its work. In this particular case, much has been learned as the evidence emerged … I have read [B’s] pleading with care and, whilst not perfect, it is sufficient in my judgment to support the case which has been advanced. Although it is true that some of the points … were not part of [B’s] pleaded complaint, they have been introduced by [A] to explain [T’s] belief other than by reference to her fault. Both sides have freely investigated the points and the evidence has been taken without a murmur of objection. Most influentially of all, it has caused no prejudice. If the point had been pressed before closing submissions, it might (I do not put it higher) have led to an application to amend. I can think of no witness who might have been called but who was not and no line of questioning which might have been followed which was not. An objection of this kind at the stage it was raised is without substance in the circumstances of this case and I reject it.’

In refusing permission to appeal, Mr Justice Morgan stated,

[Counsel for A] submitted that the Recorder should have held [B] strictly to this pleading and he relied on what was said by Lord Millett in Three Rivers DC v Bank of England (No 3) [2003] 2 AC 1 at [183] – [190]. In that passage, Lord Millett explained what is required for a proper plea of fraud or dishonesty. He also explained what is required by way of sufficient particulars in support of such a plea. In the same case at [47], Lord Hope of Craighead explained that if the particulars support the allegation of fraud or dishonesty then the question as to whether the pleading is supported by evidence is to be determined at the trial and not at the pleading stage. Lord Hope at [50] also approved the comments in McPhilemy v Times Newspapers Ltd [1999] 3 All ER 775 at 792J-793A as to the respective roles played by pleadings and by witness statements. In his judgment at [147] – [150], the Recorder dealt with a similar point to the one I am now dealing with … I agree with the Recorder that the matter was adequately pleaded. I do not accept that the Recorder was at fault in not confining the evidence at the trial so as to exclude parts of it. In any case, counsel then appearing for [A] made no such application to the Recorder before the evidence was given. Counsel engaged with all of the evidence which was called and cross-examined all of the witnesses called for [B]. Indeed, counsel for both parties prepared a lengthy and thorough statement setting out proposed findings of fact. There were altogether some 82 proposed findings of fact. In relation to each finding, each counsel set out a full list of evidence relied upon including transcript references. All of the matters to which objection is now taken were included in the findings of fact which the Recorder was asked to make. Accordingly, the Recorder was in no way at fault in making the findings which he did …

The burden of proof

[Counsel for A] relied heavily on the decision in Re Hayward now reported at [2017] 4 WLR 32. This case was decided on 16 December 2016 which was just before counsel for the parties made their closing submissions to the Recorder in this case. I was told that counsel then appearing for [A] included a copy of the judgment in his bundle of authorities but it appears that he did not cite it. In re Hayward, the Deputy High Court Judge (now His Honour Judge Klein) had to consider the legal principles as to fraudulent calumny. In his judgment, he set out paragraph [47] from re Edwards. He commented that Lewison J may well have obtained his statement of the principles from Boyse v Rossborough (1856) 6 HL Cas 2. It is plain that the Deputy Judge considered that he should apply the principles in re Edwards. He then directed himself, at [122], by reference to the facts of the case before him as to the matters he had to decide. I will set out what he said in that paragraph but I will substitute the names of the relevant persons in this case for the names which were relevant in that case. So adapted, paragraph [122] reads as follows:

“122 It seems to me that, to succeed on this plea, [B] must satisfy the following to a sufficient degree; namely,

i) that [A] made a false representation

ii) to [T]

iii) about [B’s] character

iv) for the purpose of inducing [T] to alter [her] testamentary dispositions and

v) that [A] made such a representation knowing it to be untrue or being reckless as to its truth and

vi) that the … Will was made only because of the fraudulent calumny.”

The correct test of causation or inducement

The sixth matter, based on the formulation from re Hayward was whether [T] made her will in the terms in which she did only because of the fraudulent calumny on the part of [A]. That formulation may well have been appropriate on the facts of re Hayward but I would not regard it as a correct statement of the relevant test. The question for the court is one of causation or inducement. The calumny must induce the change in the testator’s intentions. The challenger must prove that on the balance of probabilities. If it is possible that the calumny did induce the change, but the court is not persuaded on the balance of probabilities that it did induce the change, the challenge will fail. If there are other possibilities or other explanations and those other explanations persuade the court to find on the balance of probabilities that the calumny did not induce the change, the claim will fail. Conversely, although the court is given other possible explanations, if the court is nonetheless satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that the calumny did induce the will, then the claim succeeds. That is what is meant by the references to consistent and inconsistent hypotheses in re Edwards, which is itself based on Craig v Lamoureux [1920] AC 349. However, the use of the word “only” should not be understood as requiring a finding that there must have been no other reason operating in conjunction with the effect of the fraud for the testator to change his or her intentions. The question of causation or inducement was therefore a matter of fact for the [fact finder].’


Where a fact finder makes a clear finding of fact on causation or inducement (i.e. that A’s fraud had induced T to change her intentions), and the evidence in support of that finding is very clear and cogent, he is not required to do any more in terms of discussing the suggested reasons for T’s decision advanced by A at trial. In any event, in this case he found that some of the suggested reasons were the consequence of T being turned against B by what she had been told by A. Therefore the judge did not consider that A had a real prospect of success in disturbing the Recorder’s findings as to causation or inducement and refused permission to appeal on that ground of appeal.

In his conclusion Mr Justice Morgan held, ‘I have now considered all of the suggested grounds of appeal. Whether the grounds are considered individually or collectively, [A] does not have a real prospect of success on appeal and I will therefore refuse permission to appeal.’

Carl Islam, Barrister TEP, Averose Chancery Chambers ( is the author of the ‘Contentious Probate Handbook’ published by the Law Society (2016), specialises in will trust and inheritance disputes (including equitable compensation claims for breach of fiduciary duty), and is currently advising on the bringing of a fraudulent calumny claim in the Business and Property Courts. Carl is a qualified and registered Direct Access Barrister who may be instructed directly by members of the public without the involvement of a solicitor, and is one of only a small number of Barristers who have been authorised by the Bar Standards Board to conduct litigation. Prior to practising as a Barrister he practiced as a Solicitor, and remains dual qualified and on the Roll of Solicitors (as a non-practising solicitor). His forthcoming article, ‘Equitable compensation arising out of sale of a property ordered under s.14 TLATA’ is scheduled for publication in Trusts & Trustees (Oxford University Press) in December 2017:

‘Trusts & Trustees is the leading international journal on trust law and practice. The most significant source of information in its field, the journal is essential for all trusts practitioners and lawyers … The journal is ideal for international trust lawyers working in both private practice and in-house in trust companies; trusts practitioners; and those working in trust companies. It will also be an essential source of reference for academics specializing in trusts; members of the judiciary; members of regulatory bodies; and institutional libraries.’ Oxford University Press.