Hospital Products Ltd v United States Surgical Corporation: 25 Oct 1984

High Court of Australia – A solicitor’s duty of loyalty to his client’s interest, and his duty to respect his client’s confidences, have their roots in the fiduciary nature of the solicitor-client relationship, but may have to be moulded and informed by the terms of the contractual relationship.
Mason J said:’That contractual and fiduciary relationships may co-exist between the same parties has never been doubted. Indeed, the existence of a basic contractual relationship has in many situations provided a foundation for the erection of a fiduciary relationship. In these situations it is the contractual foundation which is all important because it is the contract that regulates the basic rights and liabilities of the parties. The fiduciary relationship, if it is to exist at all, must accommodate itself to the terms of the contract so that it is consistent with, and conforms to them. The fiduciary relationship cannot be superimposed upon the contract in such a way as to alter the operation which the contract was intended to have according to its construction.’
Mason J explained: ‘But entitlement to act in one’s own interests is not an answer to the existence of a fiduciary relationship, if there be an obligation to act in the interests of another. It is that obligation which is the foundation of the fiduciary relationship, even if it be subject to qualifications including the qualification that in some respects the fiduciary is entitled to act by reference to his own interests. The fiduciary duty must then accommodate itself to the relationship between the parties created by their contractual arrangements. And entitlement under the contract to act in a relevant matter solely by reference to one’s own interests will constitute an answer to an alleged breach of the fiduciary duty. The difficulty of deciding under the contract when the fiduciary is entitled to act in his own interests is not in itself a reason for rejecting the existence of a fiduciary relationship, though it may be an element in arriving at the conclusion that the person asserting the relationship has not established that there is any obligation to act in the interests of another.’


Mason J


(1984) 156 CLR 41, (1984) 55 ALR 417, (1984) 58 ALJR 587, 4 IPR 291, [1984] HCA 64




England and Wales

Cited by:

ApprovedKelly v Cooper and Another PC 25-Nov-1992
There was a dispute between a client and an estate agent in Bermuda. The client sued the estate agent for damages for breach of duty in failing to disclose material information to him and for putting himself in a position where his duty and his . .
CitedHilton v Barker Booth and Eastwood HL 3-Feb-2005
The claimant had instructed the defendant solicitors to act for him, where he was to contract with another client of the same solicitor in a land development. The solicitor failed to disclose that the other client had convictions for dishonesty, and . .
CitedRatiu, Karmel, Regent House Properties Ltd v Conway CA 22-Nov-2005
The claimant sought damages for defamation. The defendant through their company had accused him acting in such a way as to allow a conflict of interest to arise. They said that he had been invited to act on a proposed purchase but had used the . .
CitedHalton International Inc (Holding) and Another v Guernroy Ltd ChD 9-Sep-2005
Parties had entered into a shareholders’ agreement as to voting arrengemets within a company. Thay disputed whether votes had been used in reach of that agreement, particularly as to the issue of new shares and their allotment, but the court now . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Legal Professions

Updated: 12 April 2022; Ref: scu.222538