Peters & Peters lawyer Miranda Ching has successfully defended Barry Jefferd, a Cambridgeshire-based accountant, in criminal proceedings relating to fraud by abuse of position and forgery. On a submission of no case to answer, the prosecution of Mr Jefferd was resoundingly dismissed by HHJ Philip Bartle QC, with the jury at Southwark Crown Court being directed to return not guilty verdicts on 23 July 2018.

The charges against Mr Jefferd related to his dealings with an elderly tax client of his, Miss Armande Cohen, who in her late 80s developed the first signs of dementia. Mr Jefferd was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service on charges of fraud by abuse of position and forgery. These charges were prefaced upon an allegation that in 2012, Mr Jefferd had procured a will for Miss Cohen in circumstances where he was aware of the existence of a hospital assessment stating that Miss Cohen did not have capacity to manage her financial affairs.

This case raised complex questions concerning the application of the test for testamentary capacity as espoused in Banks v Goodfellows and the different tests for capacity within the context of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

At trial, it was shown that the Crown’s single reliance on the hospital assessment was fundamentally flawed. The Court heard evidence from the Prosecution’s own witnesses, including a social worker, Miss Cohen’s bank manager and a friend of hers, all of whom gave evidence to the effect that Miss Cohen at the material time had had the requisite mental capacity to give instructions for her will. The Court held that there was insufficient evidence to show that Mr Jefferd had dishonestly abused his position, or that he had made a forged instrument in the form of the will.

In his written judgment, HHJ Bartle QC stated that an earlier will “was drafted in accordance with Miss Cohen’s instructions before her admission to hospital and that Mr Jefferd was careful to check that her instructions were followed”, and that “a reasonable jury properly directed could only conclude that Miss Cohen had testamentary capacity in respect of the 2011 will”. Crucially, however, in relation to the revised and allegedly false will made in 2012, the Judge stated that “[it] shows Mr Jefferd safeguarding Miss Cohen’s interests not the reverse”.

Mr Jefferd was also represented by Ben Newton of Doughty Street Chambers.