Rowe v Prance – Case Summary

Rowe v Prance

High Court

Citations: [1999] All ER D 496.


The claimant and defendant were in a relationship, though the defendant was married to another woman. In 1985, the defendant proposed to the claimant, claiming he would leave his wife. The pair agreed to sell their respective homes and buy a property together. While the claimant sold her home, the defendant did not. Several years later, the defendant stated that they could live together if only his wife would sell her share in his home. The claimant got a valuation of the defendant’s home with a view to buying out the wife. Again, the defendant flaked.

The defendant then claimed that he would sell his home, buy his wife a house and purchase a yacht on which himself and the claimant would live. He repeatedly referred to the concept as ‘our boat’. The claimant found a suitable boat and negotiated the sale. The claimant, who was renting at the time, gave up her lease and put her furniture into storage expecting to be able to live on the boat. She stayed at hotels while the purchase was finalised.

The defendant paid the entirety of the purchase price and registered the boat in his sole name. He told the claimant that the boat could not be registered in her name because she did not have an Ocean Master’s Certificate. This was a lie.

Finally, the claimant left the defendant and claimed her share of the boat.

  1. Was there an express declaration of trust over the boat?
  2. Was the claimant the beneficiary of a constructive trust over the boat?

The Court of Appeal held for the claimant. By calling the boat ‘our boat’ as part of an arrangement by which the pair would live there together, the defendant made an express declaration of trust in favour of himself and claimant in equal shares. Since the boat was personal property and not land, there was no issue with any absence of formalities.

If an express trust had not arisen, the court was satisfied that a constructive trust would have arisen. The claimant sacrificing her lease and paying for her furniture to be stored constituted the necessary detrimental reliance.

This Case is Authority For…

A person can make an express declaration of trust without specifically using the word ‘trust’ or any other legalistic form of words.


The court noted that the defendant’s need to lie about why the claimant could not be registered as joint owner was itself strong proof she was intended to have beneficial title. This was despite the fact that it was arguably evidence that the defendant clearly did not want her to have any claim to the boat. Nevertheless, this accords with the courts’ general approach to lies of this kind: see Eves v Eves [1975] 1 WLR 1338.