Martin Kelly, ‘Mixed-up Wills, Rectification and Interpretation: Marley v. Rawlings

In Marley v Rawlings, the UK Supreme Court had to decide who should inherit the estate of Alfred Rawlings – who had mistakenly signed his wife’s Will (instead of his own). In this article, I will examine the issues of interpretative methodology arising from this case. The Supreme Court resolved the dispute by exercising its statutory power to rectify the putative Will, but it failed to articulate clearly its interpretative methodology and failed to give sufficient reasons for its interpretative conclusions. I will argue that its reasoning is best understood as primarily consequentialist. The Supreme Court also commented on the proper approach to interpreting Wills – and addressed criticisms of Lord Hoffmann’s influential approach to contractual interpretation. I will argue that the Supreme Court’s claim that all non-legislative legal documents should be interpreted using the same method is potentially misleading, and that its justification for restricting the courts’ ability to correct mistakes by interpretation – that it invades the territory of rectification – is misdirected. For, while corrective interpretations may endanger legitimate third-party expectations, those expectations are better protected by limiting the context information that is admissible in the interpretative process than by limiting the amount of ‘red ink’ that may be used in correcting a document through interpretation.

Martin David Kelly, Mixed-up Wills, Rectification and Interpretation: Marley v Rawlings, Statute Law Review, Volume 38, Issue 3, 1 October 2017, Pages 265–285,

First posted 2017-10-20 07:09:46

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