Turning a blind eye

The court has shed light on the legal concept of ‘dishonest assistance’, in the recent case of Group Seven Limited & Others v Notable Services LLP & Others [2019].

By way of background, police had investigated an €88M fraud case, in which the money was returned. The Group Seven court case was dealing with issues to include the liability of an accountant, Mr Landman, who received a substantial payment in assisting others in the matter.

The court had to determine whether Mr Landman’s actions amounted to ‘dishonest assistance’.

The legal test for determining this is complicated. It includes an assessment of the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief on the facts. When this ‘state of mind’ has been established, the question whether their conduct was dishonest is to be determined by (objective) standards of ordinary decent people.

There is no requirement that the defendant (Mr Landman in this case) must have appreciated that what he had done was by those standards dishonest.

In the Group Seven case, the issue that the court considered was whether Mr Landman had ‘blind eye’ knowledge, even though he allegedly didn’t have actual knowledge of the facts.

In other words, despite his suspicions, did he consciously decide to refrain from trying to confirm the true state of affairs, out of fear of what he might discover?

In this case, when considering the issue of dishonest assistance, the court found that Mr Landman did indeed have ‘blind eye’ knowledge.

This case highlights, particularly for those involved in the administration of trusts, the importance of not ‘turning a blind eye’. If you’re concerned about any transactions, you should actively take reasonable steps to understand the true state of affairs.

Partner Paul Gordon is an accredited mediator and head of the litigation and dispute resolution team at Willans LLP solicitors. He specialises in complex commercial litigation and intellectual property cases, and inheritance & trust disputes.

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