While most people would never consider forging a will, much less lying about it before a court, recent case law provides a cautionary reminder of the potential consequences of such behaviour. In addition to losing their entitlement to any legacy, those responsible for forging a will run the risk of both private prosecution and contempt proceedings being brought against them.
The recent case Patel v Patel & Ors (2017) provides an example of just such a scenario. The matter involved two brothers, one of whom, Yashwant Patel, was the sole executor and beneficiary of their mother’s will. His brother, Girish Patel, brought a claim for grant of probate for a later will which made Girish sole executor and beneficiary of the estate.
The trial judge dismissed the claim, finding that Girish had forged the later will by inserting his mother’s signature from some template documents she had produced for the family company before her death.
Yashwant then brought a private prosecution for forgery and attempting to pervert the course of justice. He also applied to the court for permission to bring contempt proceedings against his brother and the witnesses to the forged will, who had also provided false statements. Girish argued that he had not been warned of the possibility that there could be contempt proceedings, that the contempt proceedings should not run alongside the private prosecution, and that Yashwant’s application was merely borne out of ill-feeling.
In making its decision, the court had to determine whether, on the face of it, there was a strong case that there had been a conspiracy to mislead the court. The proceedings also had to be in the public interest, proportionate and in accordance with the court’s overriding objective to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost. Yashwant’s application could not be malicious or designed to harass, nor could the case on contempt be weak or peripheral to proceedings.
The court determined that all these criteria were met: Girish and the witnesses’ dishonesty was extremely serious and central to the court proceedings, such that it was in the public interest to allow the application. The court did not agree with Girish that the private prosecution should preclude contempt proceedings.
This case should be taken as a deterrent from forging a will or providing false evidence about the existence or execution of a will in court.