A limited company is not a trustee of its funds, but their beneficial owner. However, the fiduciary character of the duties of its directors mean that they are treated as if they were trustees of those funds of the company which are in their hands or under their control, and if they misapply them they commit a breach of trust.
The court contrasted the conduct of two directors (one of whom, Mr Brock, was also chairman) in determining their responsibility for an ultra vires investment made by the company. Neither was present at the meeting at which the investment had been approved. Attendance at a later meeting at which the minutes of that meeting were confirmed was held to be insufficient to make either director liable. On the other hand statements made by Mr Brock showing he had taken an active part in the decision to make the investment were sufficient to hold him responsible for it. However the other director had been ‘away on the sea’ and ‘had nothing to do with the transaction at all’ which was ‘past praying for’ on his return. In a case of a company director being treated as a trustee within the limitation provisions of ss1(3) and 8(1) of the Trustee Act 1888 in respect of a claim that unauthorised investments had caused loss to the company. The court recognised the trustee-like nature of a director’s duties as very relevant to the statutory limitation periods for actions by beneficiaries against express trustees for breach of trust and for the recovery of trust property, whether those periods are applied directly or by analogy. In consequence of the fiduciary character of their duties the directors of a limited company are treated as if they were trustees of those funds of the company which are in their hands or under their control, and if they misapply them they commit a breach of trust.
Directors are not regarded as trustees merely by virtue of their office; but they are treated as trustees ‘of money which comes to their hands or which is actually under their control’ (per Lindley LJ); or ‘they are only trustees qua the particular property which is put into their hands or under their control’ (per Kay LJ).
Lindley LJ and Kay L JJ
 1 Ch 616
Trustee Act 1888 1(3) 8(1)
England and Wales
Cited – DEG-Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH v Koshy and Other (No 3); Gwembe Valley Development Co Ltd (in receivership) v Same (No 3) CA 28-Jul-2003
The company sought to recover damages from a director who had acted dishonestly, by concealing a financial interest in a different company which had made loans to the claimant company. He replied that the claim was out of time. At first instance the . .
Cited – Equitable Life Assurance Society v Bowley and others ComC 17-Oct-2003
The claimant sought damages against its former directors for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. The defendants asked that the claims be struck out.
Held: It was no longer good law that directors might leave the conduct of the company’s . .
Cited – Belmont Finance Corporation Ltd v Williams Furniture Ltd (No 2) 1980
It had been alleged that there had been a conspiracy involving the company giving unlawful financial assistance for the purchase of its own shares.
Held: Dishonesty is not a necessary ingredient of liability in an allegation of a ‘knowing . .
Cited – Ultraframe (UK) Ltd v Fielding and others ChD 27-Jul-2005
The parties had engaged in a bitter 95 day trial in which allegations of forgery, theft, false accounting, blackmail and arson. A company owning patents and other rights had become insolvent, and the real concern was the destination and ownership of . .
Cited – Holland v Revenue and Customs and Another SC 24-Nov-2010
The Revenue sought an order under section 212 of the 1986 Act, for payment of the tax debts of the insolvent company by a de facto director. H had organised a scheme under which IT contractors had worked through companies created by him under a . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 11 May 2021; Ref: scu.187430