Neste Oy v Lloyd’s Bank Plc: ChD 1983

A shipping agent (PSL), a client of the defendant, had become insolvent. The defendant sought to combine the accounts. PSL settled on behalf of their shipowner clients bills payable to harbour authorities, pilots, fuel merchants, and other providers of goods and services. The shipowners sometimes put them in funds in advance and sometimes reimbursed them in arrears. The plaintiff shipowners claimed that the unspent balance of six payments made by them to a general account of PSL were held for them in trust. Their primary case was that the payments were subject to an implied trust to pay the money to the suppliers. This arose either by virtue of the agency relationship or as a special purpose (or Quistclose) trust.
Held: The argument was rejected. However, there was a constructive trust of the sixth payment, which had been received after the directors of PSL had concluded that their company was insolvent.
Bingham J approved as ‘in accord with the general principles of equity as applied in England’: ‘the receiving of money which consistently with conscience cannot be retained is, in equity, sufficient to raise a trust in favour of the party for whom or on whose account it was received. This is the governing principle in all such cases. And therefore, whenever any controversy arises, the true question is, not whether money has been received by a party of which he could not have compelled the payment, but whether he can now, with a safe conscience, ex aequo et bono, retain it.’ from Story’s Commentaries on Equity Jurisprudence, 2nd ed.
He applied this to the facts of the case saying: ‘Given the situation of PSL when the last payment was received, any reasonable and honest directors of that company (or the actual directors had they known of it) would, I feel sure, have arranged for the repayment of that sum to the plaintiff’s without hesitation or delay. It would have seemed little short of sharp practice for PSL to take any benefit from the payment, and it would have seemed contrary to any ordinary notion of fairness that the general body of creditors should profit from the accident of a payment made at a time when there was bound to be a total failure of consideration. Of course it is true that insolvency always causes loss and perfect fairness is unattainable. The bank, and other creditors, have their legitimate claims. It nonetheless seems to me that at the time of its receipt PSL could not in good conscience retain this payment and that accordingly a constructive trust is to be inferred.’


Bingham J


[1983] 2 Lloyds Rep 658


England and Wales


CitedBarclays Bank Ltd v Quistclose Investments Ltd; etc HL 31-Oct-1968
R Ltd were in serious financial difficulties. The company’s overdraft with the appellant bank was almost twice its permitted limit. The company sought a loan of 1 million pounds from a financier, who was willing to lend the company that sum provided . .

Cited by:

Not justifiedBailey and Another v Angove’s Pty Ltd SC 27-Jul-2016
The defendant had agreed to act as the claimant’s agent and distributor of the claimant’s wines in the UK. It acted both as agent and also bought wines on its own account. When the defendant went into litigation the parties disputed the right of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Insolvency, Agency, Banking

Updated: 02 June 2022; Ref: scu.568652