English Court of Appeal confirms account of profits available as remedy for dishonest assistance

Some, if not quite born trustees, are appointed as such at the outset of a trust. Some achieve trusteeship at some later stage. And some have some aspects of trusteeship thrust upon them.

Within this third category are strangers to a trust who “dishonestly assist” an express trustee in a breach of the trustee’s fiduciary duty. Through this dishonest assistance, the stranger will be liable to the injured beneficiary, even though no fiduciary relationship exists between them. Although not sued as fiduciaries, such strangers can be held liable to account in equity as if they were a trustee of the beneficiary. Commonly, for convenience (which more often leads to confusion), the stranger is called a “constructive trustee”.

Previously, there was some uncertainty as to the scope of the remedies available for dishonest assistance: specifically, whether the claimant-beneficiary could obtain an account of profits against the dishonest assister, even though no loss was suffered. The unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal in Novoship (UK) Limited & ors v Nikitin & ors [2014] EWCA Civ 908 confirms the availability of the remedy in claims against third parties for dishonest assistance and also the circumstances in which the remedy will be available, namely where there is a sufficient causal connection between the dishonest assistance and the profit and where it would be not be disproportionate to grant the remedy. Robert Hunter and Tom Wood consider the decision here.

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