A case commentary from Jonathan Holsgrove: Marriage and beneficial interests in POCA – R v ThompsonJonathan Holsgrove
R v Thompson  EWCA Crim 1244, saw the Court of Appeal deal with the issue of how to approach beneficial interests in property where the property is in the sole name of a defendant’s spouse.
In 2015, Mrs Thompson was convicted of making false representations. Confiscation proceedings followed. Thompson lived in a house with her husband, her adult son and her mother-in-law. The house had previously been owned by Mr Thompson’s parents before being transferred into his sole name a number of years before the offending. The Judge had been invited to consider the question of interest as if it were a question of determining what would happen if the Court were exercising powers under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA) on divorce. The Judge held that, notwithstanding the sole ownership status of the property, Thompson held a 45% interest in the property.
On appeal it was common ground that the Judge was not directed to s84 POCA and the provision that a person holds property if they hold an interest in it. With respect to land an interest is confined to any legal estate, beneficial interest or power. Neither was the Judge referred to the House of Lords case of Stack v Dowden  UKHL 17. It was submitted on Mrs Thompson’s behalf that the Matrimonial Causes Act was not relevant and that, citing Stack (para 56), where there was sole legal ownership there was sole beneficial ownership and it is for the non-owner to prove any interest at all. In those circumstances the property was in the sole name of Mr Thompson.
The Crown accepted those submissions. The Court of Appeal in allowing the appeal and quashing the confiscation order said:
1. The MCA was not relevant to the determination of the Court in cases of this type. The Judge below falling into error by not considering if the defendant actually had an interest as defined by s84 POCA.
2. Following Stack it was for the non-owner (the Crown in these circumstances) to prove an interest and they had not. There wasn’t even any consideration as to whether or not there was a common intention to own jointly as in the case of Jones v Kernott  UKSC 53.
So where are we now?
This was only a short judgment in an appeal that was not contested. It feels somewhat of a lost of opportunity for the Court of Appeal to examine matters in more detail and bring greater clarity.
Often in confiscation cases a defendant’s home will either be in their sole name and their spouse claims an interest through marriage or, as in this case, the home is in the sole name of the defendant’s spouse and the Court try to consider the defendant’s interest. In either scenario it was not uncommon for practitioners and the Courts to say that because there was a marriage there was also an equal beneficial interest, the MCA being cited.