19 May 2023

Thoughts on the Ministry of Defence v. Annington Homes – Julia Tobbell speaks to Lawyer in the News

Property Litigation Partner, Julia Tobbell, has recently been profiled by the Law Society Gazette in their feature, Lawyer in the News.

She provides insight into her career so far, as well as offers thoughts on Forsters’ recent success in acting for the MoD in defence of claims made my Annington Homes.

What are your thoughts on the case?

“This case was about whether the Government could be entitled to benefit from legislation which gives long leasehold owners the right to purchase the freehold of their homes (known as enfranchisement).

The MoD had sold off a large portfolio of military family homes to Annington Homes, a private equity funded vehicle, in 1996, and simultaneously taken a 200-year leaseback. At the time of the deal, enfranchisement rights did not apply to MoD but there had been subsequent changes in the legislation expanding the definition of a ‘qualifying tenant’.

The MoD was keen to explore whether enfranchisement might bring better value for money for the taxpayer than the current lease arrangement, and so brought a handful of test claims to gain some clarity on the legal position. However, as the legislation was not written with government tenants in mind, there were numerous factual and legal complexities in issue, many of which had never been decided before.

Much turned on whether the MoD had a business tenancy, which would have disqualified it from enfranchisement, or whether the legislation could apply to a Crown interest. Annington also sought to attack the claims on judicial review grounds, arguing that the MoD had acted with an improper purpose. We were delighted to win on all grounds.”

How has it been dealing with the media?

“As we were part of a much wider legal team (including Slaughter and May, MoD Legal Advisers and Government Legal Department, plus a large Counsel team), we took a coordinated approach to everything in the litigation. MoD’s very capable communications team has taken the lead in handling media enquiries.”

Why did you become a lawyer?

“My family used to joke that I was so argumentative I ought to become a lawyer. This was around the same time that Ally McBeal so I think the combination of the two probably sowed the seed.”

What has been your career high?

“Getting a job on qualification in the property litigation team at Herbert Smith Freehills; initially they had not posted a vacancy, so I chose transactional real estate instead, but then a space opened up at the last minute. I am a litigator at heart, so I was very lucky to get on the right path.”

What has been your career low?

“In my final seat, whilst working on an exhausting deal that had involved multiple 5am finishes, I had an operation to remove an infected wisdom tooth. When I came round from the general anaesthetic, I realised I had only been under for an hour. I was apparently inconsolable not to have caught up on more sleep!”

This article was originally published in the Law Society Gazette on 19 May 2023 and can also be read here (Page 11).

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