Leahy v Attorney-General of New South Wales: PC 20 Apr 1959


A gift to an unincorporated association simpliciter, i.e. where neither the circumstances of the gift nor the directions given nor the object expressed impose on the donee the character of a trustee, is nothing else than a gift to its members at the date of the gift as joint tenants or tenants in common.
Where a trust is for a non-charitable purpose and does not have a beneficiary, it fails ‘for a purpose or object cannot sue . . to enforce it’
Viscount Simonds said: ‘But, though their Lordships are of opinion that the section may operate where there is a composite expression covering charitable and non-charitable purposes, and does so in the present case, it is clear that not every expression which might possibly justify a charitable application is brought within it. For instance, in In re Hollole there was a gift to a trustee ‘to be disposed of by him as he may deem best’. The trustee might presumably have deemed it best to dispose of it for a charitable purpose, and, if he had done so, could not be said to have exceeded his powers. Yet O’Bryan J held that the gift was not saved by the section, and his decision has been rightly approved in the High Court. This was a clear case because the testator did not designate any purpose at all but in effect delegated his testamentary power in a manner that the law does not permit. Greater difficulty will arise where the permissible objects of choice are described in a composite expression which, though not so vague and general as to amount to a delegation of testamentary power, does not very clearly indicate a charitable intention on the part of the testator. ‘In the present case,’ say the Chief Justice and McTiernan J, ‘there is reference to a distributable class which, while not exclusively charitable, is predominantly charitable in character’. The same concept appears in a different form in the judgment of Williams J and Webb J. ‘One can also agree with him’ (ie., Myers J) they say ‘that in order to satisfy the section the application of the whole fund to charity must be one way of completely satisfying the intention of the testator. But, if the trust either directs or allows this to be done, the testator’s intention will be completely satisfied if the trust funds are so applied….’ Thus whether the gift be to Orders of Nuns, an object so predominantly charitable that a charitable intention on the part of the testator can fairly be assumed, or for (say) benevolent purposes, which connotes charitable as well as non-charitable purposes, the section will apply. Inevitably there will be marginal cases, where an expression is used which does not significantly indicate a charitable intention, and their Lordships do not propose to catalogue the expressions which will or will not attract the section. It may be sufficient to say that in the chequered history of this branch of the law the misuse of the words ‘benevolent’ and ‘philanthropic’ has more than any other disappointed the charitable intention of benevolent testators and that the section is clearly designed to save such gifts.’

Viscount Simonds
[1959] AC 457, [1959] UKPC 1, [1959] UKPC 9
Bailii, Bailii
Cited by:
CitedRe Lipinski’s Will Trusts ChD 1976
Harry Lipinski bequeathed his residuary estate on trust as to half for the Hull Judeans (Maccabi) Association to be used solely to construct and improve the new buildings for the association. The executors sought a determination whether the bequest . .
CitedHunt and Another v McLaren and others ChD 4-Oct-2006
Land had been given to a football club under a trust for its exclusive use as such. That land was sold and a new ground acquired and a stadium built, but the land was subject to restrictive covenenats limiting its use to sports, which considerably . .
CitedNeville Estates Ltd v Madden ChD 1962
A charitable trust was created for the benefit of the members of Catford Synagogue.
Held: The court considered three categories of valid non-charitable purpose gifts: (1) an absolute gift to members of an association at the date of the gift, . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Trusts, Commonwealth

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.245263