Appointed as Queen's Counsel in 2021, Alexander Learmonth has become a major presence at the chancery bar, combining "fine drafting skills" (Chambers UK) with "smooth and persuasive" advocacy” (Legal 500), and is described by clients as “absolutely wonderful”. In conference, clients find him "charming" and "affable" (Chambers UK Bar), and able to provide reassurance at an emotionally difficult time.
Alexander's principal area of practice is in succession. Described as "intellectually and technically remarkable" (Legal 500), he has appeared in some of the leading cases in his fields, at every level of court, including the first probate case to reach the Supreme Court, Marley v Rawlings. He is editor of leading textbooks 'Theobald on Wills' and 'Williams, Mortimer & Sunnucks on Executors, Administrators and Probate'.
He has a growing reputation in Court of Protection work and handles professional negligence claims in related fields and the chancery aspects of family proceedings.
He also has recognised expertise in property law, being ranked in the Legal 500 and with several Court of Appeal decisions to his name.
Alexander won ‘Advocate of the Year’ at the STEP Private Client Awards 2020, was named ACTAPS ‘Contentious Barrister of the Year’ 2015 and was shortlisted for Chancery Junior of the Year at the Chambers UK Bar Awards 2019. He is now one of the Presiding Judges for the STEP Private Client Awards 2021/22.
Alexander is an IMI-certified mediator, having completed a CMC-accredited course with Phoenix Dispute Solutions in 2020. He is a great believer in mediation as a tool for resolving of succession disputes and brings his expertise to bear both when acting as mediator and when representing a party to a mediation to encourage mutually acceptable solutions.
Alexander is also the Deputy Chancellor for the Diocese of Derby.
"Really, really good on his feet and never afraid to take out-there points of law." Both "very technical and very pragmatic", he "always gives such sensible advice and comfort to clients."
"A persuasive advocate with fantastic technical expertise, who displays great attention to detail. He presents well to clients, and is quick to identify their objectives and find an approach tailored to them."
Chancery: Traditional - Chambers UK Bar 2021
"He has a very good client manner coupled with real intellect, strategic awareness and a desire to win."
Private Client: trusts and probate - Legal 500 2017
"Fantastically clever; He is a very good advocate and exceptional on his feet."
Chancery: Traditional - Chambers UK Bar 2018
“Is recognised as a true specialist in this area,” “He has an excellent eye for detail and truly adds value. Alexander is also a commanding advocate and is a match for most silks on his feet.” “He is incredible. He has some phenomenal ideas and is really innovative in a strategic way. I’ve been really impressed by the way he makes the client's position as strong as possible.”
Chambers High Net Worth 2019 Chancery Traditional: Band 1
“Never falters and is a man you can have total confidence in." "Up there with the best, he is someone you need if you're faced with a very tricky matter."
Chambers UK Bar and Global 2019 Trusts: Band 1
"Has incredible control and focus, and takes a highly strategic approach to his cases." "If you need someone with imagination and a bit of 'outside the box' thinking, he can be very useful."
Chambers UK Bar 2019 Chancery: Traditional: Band 2
“Is an excellent trial lawyer, cerebral but assertive and takes the judge with him – he is a true team player who rolls up his sleeves. ’
Legal 500 2020 Private Client: Trusts and Probate: Tier 1
“He has an amazing ability to cut straight to the important points in a case and his written advice is very clear and focused. ’
Legal 500 2020 Agriculture: Tier 2
Property Litigation: Tier 5
The "outstanding" Alexander Learmonth of New Square Chambers is considered a "star junior at the bar" who is "fantastic in cross-examination in particular".
Who's Who Legal - 2020
Trusts, Wills & Estates
Chambers UK Bar 2022 describes him as "Just so dynamic, he always sees an angle that improves the client's position. He is always looking for pressure points in a case, and all his points are meritorious."
Winner of ACTAPS award for ‘Contentious Barrister of the Year 2015’.
Who's Who Legal publication (UK Bar 2016) state Alexander Learmonth specialises in wills, succession and trusts and is "stellar on paper and on his feet"
Succession and Trusts
Alexander is recommended in both Chambers UK Bar (Chancery: Traditional) and the Legal 500 (Private Client: Trusts and Probate), as a"leading exponent of every aspect of the law of succession and trusts".
He is described in Legal 500, 2020 edition as "an excellent trial lawyer, cerebral but assertive and takes the judge with him – he is a true team player who rolls up his sleeves."
It is noted in Chambers UK Bar 2020 that he "has an excellent eye for detail and truly adds value. Alexander is also a commanding advocate and is a match for most silks on his feet."
He regularly advises and acts on:
- Contentious probate, including testamentary capacity, knowledge and approval, undue influence and forgery
- Construction, rectification and variation of wills and trusts
- Claims for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
- Complex trust/estate administration, including claims by, against, or to remove trustees or personal representatives, Beddoe orders, Public Trustee v Cooper applications etc.
- Inheritance tax, including estate planning and deeds of variation
- Mutual wills, secret trusts, donatio mortis causa, proprietary estoppel and constructive trusts
His reported cases include several leading cases, most notably Marley v Rawlings, the first probate case ever in the Supreme Court, Re Ashkettle and Re Pittaway.
He edits two of the leading textbooks in the area;
- Theobald on Wills
- Williams, Mortimer & Sunnucks on Executors, Administrators and Probate
- A contributor to the Probate Practitioner’s Handbook
He is a full member of the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP), the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) and a member of the Chancery Bar Association committee.
Court of Protection
Alexander enjoys a growing reputation in the Court of Protection.
He regularly deals with powers of attorney, deputyship, statutory wills, personal injury trusts, conflicts of laws and best interests decisions.
Alexander has advised and appeared in cases involving all forms of mental impairment, including dementia, learning difficulties, and catastrophic brain injury (not reported due to the confidential nature of the work). He has recently been asked to supply expert evidence in a criminal trial on the law relating to powers of attorney.
His work not only includes property and affairs matters, but also extends to personal welfare decisions, including choice of residence and alleged ‘granny-napping’.
Cases in the Court of Protection often raise highly emotive issues; Alexander’s sensitive manner with clients and sympathetic style advocacy in court is ideally suited to this work.
Wills, trusts and property work are high-risk areas for lawyers and their clients, and professional negligence claims in these fields are a growth area.
Much of Alexander’s succession work arises from badly drafted wills, poorly implemented tax planning schemes and the like, and he is often called upon to advise both disappointed clients and their former advisers. Such claims often involve particularly difficult questions of scope of duty and limitation periods. Alexander has top-level experience in this area, having represented the Respondents in the ground-breaking decision of Marley v Rawlings (costs) in the Supreme Court, successfully obtaining a non-party order against the negligent solicitor’s insurers for his clients’ costs of the whole proceedings. In the hard-fought litigation in Swain-Mason v Mills & Reeve, Alexander appeared twice in the Court of Appeal and no fewer than four times in the High Court.
Alexander has also advised on several claims in the field of property law, such as unclear declarations of trust and negligent advice on the merits of an adverse possession claim.
Alexander is regularly instructed by both claimants and by advisers’ insurers.
The High Net Worth Guide, 2020 edition recommends Alexander in Offshore. “He is incredible. He has some phenomenal ideas and is really innovative in a strategic way. I’ve been really impressed by the way he makes the client's position as strong as possible.”
Alexander has accumulated considerable experience of dealing with cross-border trusts and estates, having advised on disputed estates of those domiciled abroad, estates with assets in multiple jurisdictions, and on wills executed abroad or in accordance with foreign law, as well as offshore trusts.
The Legal 500 2020 edition recommends Alexander in property litigation, as having "an amazing ability to cut straight to the important points in a case and his written advice is very clear and focused." Previous editions describe him as “a knowledgeable and well-organised advocate, who is persuasive in court" and “proactive, insightful and intellectually outstanding".
With practical experience in all venues from the First-Tier Tribunal to the Court of Appeal, his practice includes:
- Trusts of land and co-ownership (French v Barcham)
- Proprietary estoppel (Bradbury v Taylor, CA)
- Adverse possession
- Land registration and rectification (Re Park Associated Developments Ltd)
- Boundary disputes
- Rights of way and other easements (Green v Lord Somerleyton, CA)
- Freehold covenants
- Mortgages (Gotham v Doodes, CA)
- Residential and business tenancies, including leasehold enfranchisement, renewals, dilapidations and forfeiture
Alexander is particularly suited to cases involving the effects of insolvency and death on property rights as his reported cases show, He has also appeared in the family court, dealing with third party claims to matrimonial property.
Alexander is an accredited mediator with the International Mediation Institute, having completed a CMC-accredited course with Phoenix Dispute Solutions. He is a great believer in the power of mediation, particularly in the context of inheritance and probate disputes, and in cases between family members.
The outcome of such cases at trial is very often be hard for parties and their lawyers to predict, being highly fact-sensitive (in the case of contentious probate disputes) and dependent on the judge’s evaluation or discretion (in the case of claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975). The result at court is often wholly binary – the will is either valid or it is not – whereas the costs of a full-trial, perhaps lasting a week or more, can be huge, and often disproportionate to the amounts at stake, and with no certainty as to how they will be borne, or whether they will be recoverable in practice.
The effect of being thrown into a dispute like this is involuntarily to turn ordinary people into high-stakes gamblers, often risking more money than they can afford to lose – something they would never normally do. The process is invariably lengthy and emotionally draining, and can negatively affect the whole family.
Mediation offers parties to these disputes a way to step away from the ‘roulette wheel’ of litigation and ‘cash in their chips’. Alexander has experience of several dozen mediations, as advocate and mediator, and is able to inspire parties’ confidence in the process and set them at their ease. He is adept at helping parties to find flexible and sometimes innovative solutions to meet the parties’ needs, in ways not open to the court, very often achieving a saving in inheritance tax at the same time.
Other forms of ADR: Expert determination, Early Neutral Evaluation and private FDR
Other forms of alternative dispute resolution which Alexander can assist with include expert determination, Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) and private FDR.
Expert determination is often appropriate where there is a disagreement about the meaning of a will or other document, allowing that issue to be resolved by an opinion which all parties will have agreed in advance to be binding on them. This route is much cheaper and more efficient than a Court determination. And in cases where the interpretation of affects the interests of minors, unborn or unascertained beneficiaries, the opinion can be used as the basis for an application using the summary procedure under s.48 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985. Alexander has huge experience in the interpretation of wills, including having appeared in the Supreme Court in the leading case of Marley v Rawlings and editing a leading textbook on the subject, Theobald on Wills, now in its 19th edition.
Early Neutral Evaluation is growing in popularity, and can be useful in a variety of disputes, including contentious probate or Inheritance Act cases. Where parties have markedly divergent views on the merits of the case, and feel it would be helpful to know how an independent legal expert in the field thinks the parties’ respective arguments are likely to play out at trial, Alexander can (tactfully) offer both parties an objective view. This can pave the way to a successful exchange of offers of settlement, or improve the chances of success at a later mediation.
Financial Dispute Resolution is a procedure familiar to family practitioners, but increasingly common in other areas, in particular in Inheritance Act claims. Originally a court-led procedure, it is now often progressed privately, with an independent facilitator in place of a judge. It is somewhere between ENE and mediation, where Alexander will not merely encourage settlement but also express views on the strength of both sides’ cases, and suggest what a sensible outcome might be. It is best done after financial disclosure has taken place.
Qualifications / Education
New College, Oxford - BA Jurisprudence
Alexander won ‘Contentious Barrister of the Year’ in the ACTAPS awards 2015.
Won the Tancred Studentship Award and a Hardwicke Entrance Award
Advocate of the Year 2020 at the STEP’s annual Private Client Awards.
Chairman of the Young Barristers' Committee for 2009
Bar Council from 2007-2009 and 2013-2014, sitting on Professional Practice Committee, providing guidance to the Bar on issues of professional ethics
CBA - Chancery Bar Association (committee)
STEP – Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (full member)
ACTAPS – Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists
BBA - Barristers’ Benevolent Association (committee)