Buttle v Saunders: ChD 1950

Trustees for sale had struck a bargain for the sale of trust property but had not bound themselves by a legally enforceable contract.
Held: They had a duty to consider and explore a better offer that they received, and not to carry through the bargain to which they felt in honour bound.
Wynn-Parry J said: ‘It is true that persons who are not in the position of trustees are entitled, if they so desire, to accept a lesser price than that which they might obtain on the sale of property, and not infrequently a vendor, who has gone some lengths in negotiating with a prospective purchaser, decides to close the deal with that purchaser, notwithstanding that he is presented with a higher offer. It redounds to the credit of a man who acts like that in such circumstances. Trustees, however, are not vested with such complete freedom. They have an overriding duty to obtain the best price which they can for their beneficiaries. It would, however, be an unfortunate simplification of the problem if one were to take the view that the mere production of an increased offer at any stage, however late in the negotiations, should throw on the trustees a duty to accept the higher offer and resile from the existing offer. For myself, I think that trustees have such a discretion in the matter as will allow them to act with proper prudence. I can see no reason why trustees should not pray in aid the common-sense rule underlying the old proverb: ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ I can imagine cases where trustees could properly refuse a higher offer and proceed with a lower offer. Each case must, of necessity, depend on its own facts.’


Wynn-Parry J


[1950] 2 All ER 193


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedCowan v Scargill and Others ChD 13-Apr-1984
Trustee’s duties in relation to investments
Within the National Coal Board Pension scheme, the trustees appointed by the NCB were concerned at the activities of the trustees of the miners, and sought directions from the court. The defendants refused to allow any funds to be invested abroad. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.222823