Armitage v Nurse

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date19 March 1997
Neutral Citation[1997] EWCA Civ 1279
Docket NumberCHANF 95/1318/B
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date19 March 1997
Paula Rachel Armitage
(1) Richard Nurse
(2) Dudley Thomas Bowman Stammers and Brian Arthur Stammers
(the Personal Representatives of Arthur George Stammers, deceased)
(3) Margaret Lambert McLeod Flatman
(the Personal Representative of Keith Flatman, deceased, Substituted by Order to carry on dated 20th September 1995)
(4) Jeffrey Reginald Wright

[1997] EWCA Civ J0319-1


Lord Justice Hirst

Lord Justice Millett

Lord Justice Hutchison

CHANF 95/1318/B





Royal Courts of Justice

MR. B. WEATHERILL Q.C. (instructed by Messrs Royds Treadwell, London, EC4) appeared on behalf of the Appellant/Plaintiff.

MR. G. HILL (instructed by Messrs Hood Vores & Allwood) appeared on behalf of the First and Fourth Defendants, instructed by Messrs Greenland Houchen on behalf of the Second Defendant and instructed by Messrs Mills & Reeve on behalf of the Third Defendant.


The main questions which arise in this appeal are concerned with the true construction of a trustee exemption clause in a settlement and the legitimate scope of such clauses in English law.


The Appellant ("Paula") has brought an Action for breach of trust against the Respondents who are the trustees and the personal representatives of deceased trustees of a Settlement of which she is the principal beneficiary. The Settlement contains a trustee exemption clause (Clause 15) in very wide and general terms as well as a special and more limited exemption clause (Clause 9). Jacob J was asked to decide three preliminary questions in the Action. They may be summarised as follows:

(1) Whether Clause 15 of the Settlement operates to absolve the Respondents from liability for all or any of the breaches alleged in the Amended Statement of Claim;

(2) Whether Clause 9(a) of the Settlement operates to similar effect;

(3) Whether any of the Paula's claims in respect of breaches of trust alleged to have been committed before 15th. June 1987 are statute-barred.


The Judge decided Question (1) in the affirmative and Questions (2) and (3) in the negative. He awarded the Respondents 80% of their costs but deprived them of the right to reimburse themselves out of the trust fund to the extent of the remaining 20%.


Both parties appeal to this Court. Paula appeals against the Judge's answer to Question (1) The Respondents appeal against his answers to Questions (2) and (3) and against his order depriving them of their right to reimburse themselves for their costs out of the trust fund. We have given leave to Paula to raise a further question which was not considered by the Judge. This is whether if, as the Judge ruled, Clause 15 on its true construction exempts each of the Respondents from all liability for breach of trust other than liability for his own dishonesty, the Clause is void for repugnancy or on grounds of public policy.


The facts.


The Settlement was made on 11th. October 1984. It was the result of an application to the Court by the trustees of a Marriage Settlement made by Paula's Grandfather for the variation of the trusts of the settlement under the Variation of Trusts Act 1958. Paula's Mother was life tenant under the Marriage Settlement and Paula, who was then aged 17, was entitled in remainder. The settled property consisted largely of land which was farmed by a family company called G.W. Nurse & Co. Limited ("the Company"). The Company had farmed the land for many years and until March 1984 it had held a tenancy of the land. Paula's Mother and Grandmother were the sole directors and shareholders of the Company.


Under the terms of the variation the property subject to the trusts of the Marriage Settlement was partitioned between Paula and her Mother. Part of the land together with a sum of £230,000 was transferred to Paula's Mother absolutely free and discharged from the trusts of the Marriage Settlement. The remainder of the land ("Paula's land") together with a sum of £30,000 was allocated to Paula. Since she was under age, her share was directed to be held on the trusts of a settlement prepared for her benefit. So the Settlement came into being.


Under the trusts of the Settlement the trustees held the income upon trust to accumulate it until Paula attained 25 with power to pay it to her or to apply it for her benefit. Thereafter and until Paula attained 40 they held the income upon trust to pay it to her. The capital was held in trust for Paula at 40 with trusts over in the event of her death under that age, and with provision for transferring the capital to Paula in instalments after she had attained 25 but not 40.


The Settlement, which must be taken to have been made by Paula as well as by her Mother, appears to have been drawn by Counsel for the Marriage Settlement Trustees (Mr. P.W.E.Taylor Q.C. and Mr. Geoffrey Jaques) and approved on Paula's behalf by Junior Counsel who appeared for her guardian ad litem. It was approved on her behalf by the High Court (H.H.Judge Fitzhugh Q.C.).


The pleadings.


The Amended Statement of Claim pleads a number of breaches of trust in detail. The Judge summarised them under four heads. First, Paula complains that in breach of trust the trustees appointed the Company to farm Paula's land as well as the land which had been transferred to her Mother. It is alleged that this was not merely grossly imprudent but was expressly forbidden by Clause 12 of the Settlement, inserted for fiscal reasons, which provides that no capital or income subject to the trusts of the Settlement shall in any circumstances whatsoever be paid or applied beneficially (save for full consideration) or be applied for the benefit whether directly or indirectly of Paula's Mother or Grandmother. (The Respondents, of course, plead that the Company's obligation to manage the farm constituted full consideration for the £500 a quarter which it was paid for doing so. It is not alleged that the Company's appointment had any adverse fiscal consequences.)


Secondly, it is alleged that in breach of trust the trustees failed thereafter properly to supervise the Company's management of Paula's land. Thirdly, it is alleged that the trustees failed to make proper inquiry into the reasons why the value of Paula's land apparently fell dramatically between the date on which it was valued for the purposes of the partition in 1984 and the date when it was sold in 1987. Finally, it is alleged that the trustees failed to obtain proper payment of interest in respect of a loan made to Paula's Mother.


Before us Counsel for Paula has summarised the pleadings more generally. They allege, he says, not merely a failure to distinguish between Paula's interests and those of her family but a deliberate course of conduct on the part of the trustees to disregard the interests of Paula and subordinate them to the interests of her Mother or other members of the family who were not objects of the trust; or at the very least a conscious indifference to Paula's interests.


Before analysing the pleadings in more detail, it is convenient to consider the scope Clause 15 of the Settlement.


Clause 15 of the Settlement.


Clause 15 of the Settlement is in the following terms:

"No Trustee shall be liable for any loss or damage which may happen to Paula's fund or any part thereof or the income thereof at any time or from any cause whatsoever unless such loss or damage shall be caused by his own actual fraud" (my emphasis).


The Clause was taken from Hallett's Conveyancing Precedents (1965 ed.). A more prolix clause to the same effect may be found in Key & Elphinstone's Conveyancing Precedents (15th.Ed.)(1953). In my judgment the meaning of the Clause is plain and unambiguous. No trustee can be made liable for loss or damage to the capital or income of the trust property caused otherwise than by his own actual fraud. "Actual fraud" means what it says. It does not mean "constructive fraud" or "equitable fraud". The word "actual" is deliberately chosen to exclude them.


Counsel for Paula submits that in a settlement the context requires the word "fraud" to be given the extended meaning which the Courts of Equity came to give it. The distinction between fraud properly so-called and other cases to which the Court of Chancery, in his own words

"undoubtedly did apply the term "fraud", although I think unfortunately"


is expounded in the speech of Viscount Haldane in Nocton v Ashburton [1914] AC 932. As he explained

"in Chancery the term "fraud" thus came to be used to describe what fell short of deceit, but imported breach of a duty to which equity had attached its sanction."


It is worthy of note that he himself used the expression "actual fraud" throughout his speech to distinguish cases of common law fraud or deceit from these other cases. Lord Dunedin did the same when he said at p. 963

"…if based on fraud, then, in accordance with the decision in Derry v Peek (1889), 14 App.Cas. 337, the fraud proved must be actual fraud, a mens rea, an intention to deceive."


Derry v Peek established that nothing short of a fraudulent intention in the strict sense will suffice for a case of deceit or fraud properly so called. It requires proof of dishonesty. Nothing less will do. Gross and culpable negligence is not enough. This was confirmed in Nocton v Ashburton, which also established that dishonesty is not a necessary factor in cases of so-called equitable fraud.


In my judgment, therefore, Clause 15 is apt to exclude liability for breach of trust in the absence of a dishonest intention on the part of the trustee whose conduct is impugned. I would...

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