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THE NEW FUNDAMENTAL NORM OF RECOVERY FOR LOSSES TO EXPRESS TRUSTS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 July 2015

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THE principles for recovering monetary relief for losses to express trusts have recently been uncertain, especially in “commercial” situations. Where trustees undertook to hold money on trust for a lender and to advance the money to a borrower after receiving security documents, the trustees no doubt breach the trust by advancing the money without first receiving the security documents. However, since Target Holdings v Redferns [1996] A.C. 421, it has been uncertain what measure of relief the lender-beneficiary can recover – and especially whether the measure differs according to (1) whether the form of relief claimed is a general accounting or “equitable compensation” for only particular defaults or (2) whether the circumstances are “commercial”. Under the accounting doctrines as traditionally applied, trustees unable to vouch for trust assets they earlier received could not reduce their liability by showing that part or all of the loss would have been suffered even had they performed the trust correctly. The trustees were responsible for the misapplied sum regardless of causal enquiries. But, in Target, the House of Lords – emphasizing the commercial nature of the case – denied a lender-beneficiary's claim to recover the full sum wrongly disbursed by trustees. The significance of the case has been contested. Did Target change a fundamental norm of monetary relief for losses suffered through breach of trust – a norm applicable regardless of whether the form of relief claimed is a general accounting or equitable compensation for only particular defaults? Did Target instead leave the traditional accounting doctrines untouched, and create a new remedy of equitable compensation for breach of trust? Or did Target establish a “commercial” exception to traditional principles of trustee accountability, an exception limiting the quantum of relief? Indeed, was Target decided per incuriam?

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Copyright © Cambridge Law Journal and Contributors 2015 

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