James Bradford Successful in the Court of Appeal: Important Restatement of Principles On Appeals of Factual Findings

On 5 April 2022, the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in Gabriele Volpi & Delta Ltd v Matteo Volpi [2022] EWCA Civ 464 following a one day remote hearing.

The appeal concerned the decision of His Honour Judge Jarman QC, sitting as a judge of the High Court, on 2 August 2021. The trial had concerned a factual dispute as to the nature of the funding which had been provided by the Claimants/Respondents in 2012 to purchase an apartment near Lugano, Switzerland with a key issue being whether there had been a valid loan (as the Claimants/Respondents had argued) or whether the funds had been provided by way of a gift (as the Defendant/Appellant had submitted). HHJ Jarman QC had found that the balance of probability lay in favour of there being a loan, after full consideration of the inherent likelihoods, documentary and expert evidence.

The Appellant sought to challenge the central factual findings and argued, amongst other things, that there had been no oral or contemporaneous documentary evidence in favour of the parties ever agreeing a loan and that the expert evidence had actually been inconclusive and unable to satisfy the burden of proof.

The appeal was dismissed and these submissions rejected.

The Court of Appeal went through the contemporaneous evidence showing the clear intention that the money was transferred by way of a loan (including a draft loan agreement that had been signed by one of the Respondents) and the various indications that this was not a gift. The Court also recognised that HHJ Jarman QC had been entitled to draw the conclusions that he had on the expert evidence and that the Judge had accurately summarised that evidence.

In reaching its conclusions, the Court of Appeal re-emphasised and summarised the principles which a court should follow when approaching appeals on a question of fact and the approach which an appellate court should take to appeals against a trial judge's evaluation of expert evidence: see paragraphs [2] – [5] of the decision. These principles include that 'An appeal court should not subject a judgment to narrow textual analysis', that it was entitled 'unless there is compelling reason to the contrary, to assume that the trial judge has taken the whole of the evidence into his consideration' and that 'What matters is whether the decision under appeal is one that no reasonable judge could have reached'.

The Court also gave an important consideration of the legal framework which applies to cases of this kind, including the relevance of the presumption of advancement: see [45] – [47] of the decision.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found that the Appeal 'demonstrates many features of appeals against findings of fact' including that it sought to 'retry the case afresh', 'persuade an appeal court to form its own evaluation of the reliability of witness evidence' and 'persuade the appeal court to reattribute weight to the different strands of evidence' (at [65]). The Court concluded that 'The question for us is whether the judge's finding that the money was a loan rather than a gift was rationally insupportable. In my judgment it was not. In my judgment the judge was entitled to reach the conclusion that he did' (at [66]).

James Bradford was led by Andrew Holden (XXIV Old Buildings Chambers) and was instructed by Grimaldi Studio Legale LLP to act on behalf of the Respondents. For a link to the judgment click here.

James also represented the successful claimants (led by Andrew Holden) below at trial in the Chancery Division (click here for more information).