Presumption of advancement and participation in an unlawful scheme

In Yip Wai Hong v Yip Kai Tong ([2015] HKEC 501, CFI) a father transferred a village house to each of his two sons.  The consideration referred to in the assignments was never paid. The father now contended that the sons each held their village house on resulting trust for him. The sons sought to rely on the presumption of advancement and Deputy Judge Burrell decided that they were entitled to do so. It did not matter that the defence made no specific reference to the presumption. It was enough to show that there had been a transfer from father to son for the presumption to arise ([34] – [38]). The father also argued that the presumption is now a ‘weak  concept’. This was rejected: Tribe v Tribe from the UK and Calverly v Green from Australia show that the presumption is still alive and well ([41] – [42]).

The father could not rebut the presumption. One reason for this was that in order to do so he would need to rely on evidence of an illegal scheme. The houses were among several built on land owned by the plaintiff under a scheme which involved indigenous villagers selling their ‘Ting’ rights to allow the houses to be built under the Small House Policy. The father alleged that the sons, like the other villagers, had simply sold their ‘Ting’ rights. The overall scheme was undoubtedly unlawful. The sons had to make statutory declarations that they ‘had no intention at present to make any private arrangement for any rights under the Small House Policy to be sold to other individual / developer’ and that they were each the sole owner of the relevant house ([44]). These would be untrue if the sons were not the sole legal and beneficial owners. Although the father was not the maker of the false declarations, his knowledge  that the scheme was unlawful was enough to prevent him from relying on the scheme to rebut the presumption. Further, his actions in making the allegedly false declarations possible by transferring ownership to the sons would be illegal ([54]).

Michael Lower

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