In a judgement delivered on January 31st 2019 the Court of Appeal (presided by The Hon Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, assisted by Judge Joseph Micallef and Judge Tonio Mallia) ruled emphatically in favour of Robert Hornyold-Strickland in his appeal against the Contentious Court’s earlier decision regarding the refusal of The Strickland Foundation and Allied Newspapers Ltd to disclose documents and files relating to Court Action 1136/15 that belonged to his Aunt but are now in their possession. The Court insisted that all these files must now be disclosed to the courts and to the heir.
Robert Hornyold-Strickland is both the sole heir of his great-aunt The Hon. Mabel Strickland and also now her residual executor. Despite this, he has been frustrated for many decades by the actions of his aunt’s original executors, Professors Guido de Marco (who had been Miss Strickland’s final legal adviser) and Joseph M. Ganado, by improperly diverting her key assets into their control without either her heir’s approval or the Court’s approval. Essential files, that would help to shed light on Miss Strickland’s actual succession planning process and her intentions for her Strickland legacy, have been persistently withheld by the original Executors, and now, even by their sons and the Strickland Foundation.
Files and documents relating to the improper transfer in 2010 of the majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers to the Strickland Foundation are also being withheld, including a valid instrument of transfer and details of dividend payments made relative to those shares since Miss Strickland’s death, notwithstanding that full disclosure of these documents was previously ordered by the Voluntary Courts in 2015, which was ignored.
Mr Strickland asserts that these legal, administrative and executors’ files all belong to him. He also states that “in deliberately withholding these files, these people are interfering with the Court’s ability to deliver justice in relation to the legitimate disputes concerning Miss Strickland’s estate together with the proper ownership of the majority shareholding of the Allied Newspapers Group of Companies”.
The Court of Appeal took note of the defendant’s arguments that these files could not be handed over to the heir because of legal privilege the advocates owe to the deceased client, but this was comprehensively dismissed by the Court of Appeal. In their judgement, the Court ruled that client privilege existed solely to protect the client and not the advocates.
The Court of Appeal also said that client privilege could not be invoked in matters of inheritance and that, in any case, the sole heir effectively stepped into the shoes of Miss Strickland upon her death. Thus, to all intents and purposes, the heir then becomes their client. Given this situation, it is therefore obvious that by requesting full disclosure of all the family documents, withheld by the defendants, that the sole heir is giving his permission for the defendants to produce the files and documents without any further delay.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the defendants must now disclose all documents relating to the case number 1136/15 and added that, if a question arises as to the relevance of a requested document, then the Contentious Court, themselves, will decide on its relevance.
Robert Strickland commented: “I am encouraged that the Judges upheld our appeal and stated that the Strickland Foundations submissions were incorrect.” The Court stated that the “rules of procedure must be enforced to assist the case in question to move forward in its search for the truth and that the Court’s understanding helps to achieve the necessary aims and that nothing should be concealed that is needed to achieve those objectives”.
It further stated that the defendants, namely The Strickland Foundation, Allied Newspapers Ltd and the MFSA (who were subsequently joined into the case) need to adhere to the judgement and that Mr Strickland’s claim for the presentation of all these files and documents must be met.
Mr Strickland said: “Perhaps, finally, we will see whether a valid instrument of transfer actually exists to support the 2010 transfer of the majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd to the Strickland Foundation and how Allied Newspapers Ltd can justify having previously paid many millions of Euros in ‘so-called’ dividends directly to the Strickland Foundation when it was not even a registered shareholder.”
He added: “I sincerely hope that the defendants will now stop playing any more legal games and will abide by the Court of Appeal’s very clear judgement.”