The deceased, Mr. Joseph Robson, had lived in Spain for nearly 20 years had placed most of his £389,000 estate in offshore funds so as to avoid Spanish succession law. However, in 1996 he had made a will leaving his estate to the British National Party (“BNP”).
After his death, his two sons who lived in England, challenged the will on the grounds that the BNP bequest was illegal as according to The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (“the Act”) political parties are forbidden to accept donations from those residing abroad, even if they are British, unless they are registered to vote in the UK.
The Act applied retrospectively to the will in question because the gift did not materialise until the death of Mr. Robson.
In an attempt to circumvent the problem, the BNP's Treasurer, who was aware of the Act, executed a deed of variation to the will under which the gift would not be paid directly to the party and would be redirected into a purpose-made trust, the trustees all being closely linked to the party.
Mr. Robson’s sons argued that this step could not legitimise what would otherwise be a disallowed political donation and insisted that the Act obliged the BNP to repay the gift to the estate. It was further argued that the failure of the gift revoked the will.
A key point of the argument was whether the testator was registered to vote in UK elections, as he was entitled to be. The BNP was unable to produce evidence that he was a registered voter.
It was noted by Judge, Richard Sheldon, that the BNP entering a deed of variation in itself suggested that they were not satisfied that the deceased was a 'permissible donor' under the Act.
It also transpired that the BNP had received the gift before the attempts to transfer it to a trust and so the court did not accept the BNP's attempt to avoid the ban on foreign donations.
The BNP were ordered to return the cash and it was declared that Joseph Robson's estate should be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.