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Law Notes Trusts and Equity Notes

Breach Of Trust Notes

Updated Breach Of Trust Notes

Trusts and Equity Notes

Trusts and Equity

Approximately 1016 pages

Equity notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB trusts cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

These were the best Equity and Trusts Law notes the director of Oxbridge Notes (an Oxford law graduate) could find after combing through dozens of LLB samples from outstanding law students with the highest re...

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Breach of Trust

PQ Structure:

  1. Identify duty breached - Identify the relevant power or duty that has been exceeded or breached? What does the breach of trust consist of? Pay careful attention to whether Ts liability in strict or fault-based, i.e. unauthorised investment is strict liability, but if act within their power but imprudently, then that is fault-based. Type of liability affects measure of liability.

  2. Defences - Are there any entire or partial defences to the claim?

    • Exculpatory clauses

    • Beneficiary concurrence

    • Limitation of actions

    • Relief under Trustee Act 1925, s.61

  3. Quantify liability - If there is no defence, or if the defence is only partial, then quantify the liability. Work of what loss has been caused to the trust estate.

    • Restoration

    • Taking of accounts: (i) Falsifying; (ii) Surcharging

    • Interest

  4. Allocate quantum - Once the quantum is worked out, allocate it. Who owns the quantum? Do all Ts in breach have to pay equally? Do the Bs have to pay anything?


1. ‘Breach of Trust’: There is no accepted or universal definition of what a trust is in English law, so there is no agreement on what a breach of trust us. However, there are specific rules that deal with specific types of breach of trust. E.g. Unauthorised investment, authorised investment made imprudently, payment of wrong beneficiaries.

Working definition: “A breach of trust occurs if a trustee does any act which he ought not to do, or fails to do any act which he ought to do with regard to the administration of the trust, or with regard to the beneficial interests arising under the trust” (Oakley, 2003).


2. Defences

(i) Exculpatory clauses – Look at the trust deed. As a trust is a bargain there might be a clause exculpating the T from any liability. There are different types of clauses that can be used in combination.

(a) Enlarged powers – Trust deed may enlarge T’s powers. Important because the T does not act in breach of trust, but they might without the enlarged powers. Does not necessarily avoid all duties T has – T must still exercise care within that broad range. So often get a combination of enlarged power and an abridgement of care.

(b) Abridged duties – T will not owe a duty of care when exercising specific powers. Means there is no breach of trust.

  • Wilkins v. Hogg (1861); Trust said T was not obliged to oversee trust fund’s application. Clause took away duty of T to control the trust fund. T allowed a co-T to control it. Co-T misapplied the fund but the first T was not liable because his duty to control the trust had been taken away. Co-T had acted in breach of trust.

(c) Exemption from liability – Exemption clauses presume that there has been a breach of trust (unlike the first 2 situations) but that T is immune from liability and cannot be sued. If the clause exempts T from liability, it may not exempt other people from liability – a third party who dishonestly assisted in the breach may still be liable. Also, it may exempt a third party but not T. Depends on what the trust says.

Issue: Are exemption clauses legitimate in trusts?

Some argue exemption clauses are repugnant to nature of trust – you cannot give Bs rights and then take them away by taking them away in the trust deed.

+ Conaglen: This makes no sense as Bs only get what the trust deed gives them. Invalid view.

  • Armitage v Nurse [1998];

Facts: There was an exemption clause excluding T from liability due to any cause, apart from his own fraud. Valid?

Decision: This was a valid clause because it had not exempted irreducible core of obligations (T’s duty to act honestly and not fraudulently). But there are limitations: “The duty of the trustees to perform the trusts honestly and in good faith for the benefit of the beneficiaries is the minimum necessary to give substance to the trusts, but in my opinion it is sufficient.”

Fraud’: “[Fraud] connotes at the minimum an intention on the part of the trustee to pursue a particular course of action, either knowing that it is contrary to the interests of the beneficiaries or being recklessly indifferent whether it is contrary to their interests or not.” (Armitage v Nurse [1998]).

Issue: What happens if the clause is overruled? What if it purports to exclude liability for fraud? Unclear in UK as people do not generally exlude liability for fraud.

Three possibilities:

  1. No trust - Could say there is no trust at all because T does not even have to act honestly, can act only for themselves and not another, so here is no real trust;

  2. Ignore exemption clause entirely – Harsh on T and does not really construe words.

  3. Ignore the bit of the clause that is too broad – Exclude fraud. Pragmatically seems what the court what do; this was done in Jersey but on the basis of statute.

Effect of T’s fraud - If T does something knowing that they do not have the power to it/it is unauthorised, the exemption clause will not protect them if they know and are recklessly indifferent to B’s best interests. If they know they do not have the power but think it is in B’s best interest then they are protected by the exemption clause.

  • Walker v. Stones [2001]; CA emphasised that if T honestly believes they are acting in B’s best interests, but that view is so unreasonable that no reasonable T could hold it, then that view is unreasonable and T will be liable. Dishonesty is an objective standard in this context.

= Exemption clauses do not give as much protection to T as other 2 types of clauses because there is a risk that the clause may not protect T if they act recklessly - “a trustee who relied on the presence of a trustee exemption clause to justify what he proposed to do would thereby lose its protection: he would be acting recklessly in the proper sense of the term” (Armitage).

- Law Commission, Trustee Exemption Clauses...

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