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Unit information: Trusts in 2018/19

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Unit name Trusts
Unit code LAWDM0140
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Mrs. Catey Thomas
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This Unit explores the core principles of English personal property law, with its primary focus being on the law of trusts. Though broadly doctrinal in focus, it will also expose the development of those principles, the policies that have driven their development, and practical operation, as well as the future scope for law reform in the area. The unit will cover the following topics: the nature of and distinctions between: property and possession, law and equity, trusts and other concepts such as debt bailment and, powers; the creation of express trusts; charitable trusts and the doctrine of cy-pres; non-charitable purpose trusts, including unincorporated associations, Re Denley-type trusts; operation and management of trusts; including statutory powers and duties of trustees in relation to investment and delegation; the nature of fiduciary obligations; breach of trust and remedies available at common law and in equity as against both trustees and third parties; the theoretical basis of resulting and constructive trusts (with particular emphasis on the application of the resulting trust, including the Quistclose trust); the circumstances in which a trust can be varied. The Unit will develop student's skills in common law method (case-law and statutory interpretation), in research (involving both paper and electronic resources), and in multiple-issue problem-solving.

The trust concept has been described as ‘the greatest and most distinctive achievement performed by Englishmen in the field of jurisprudence’ (Maitland, 1936). Although difficult to define – not least because of its flexibility - the trust is of great significance to very many areas of law and modern life, from family law to commercial law, and from land law to insolvency and charities. At the heart of the trust lies the separation of ownership into legal and beneficial ownership, enabling one person (the trustee) to hold property for the benefit of another (the beneficiary) or for certain purposes, with attendant obligations on the trustee and consequences when those are breached. This unit enables you to understand and evaluate the principles of trust law underpinning the creation and operation of trusts and their breach, and see (and question) the myriad ways in which trust principles play a role in wider law, commerce and society. The concept of the trust is fundamental to the law of succession, the law of tax, the law of pensions, and to commercial law in general. It also underpins land law – most domestic property is now held on trust. You will learn about how and why trusts are created, as well as the consequences that flow from the classification of a transaction as a trust rather than as some other legal relationship. You will discover the importance of the law of trusts to charities and to non-charitable associations, such as social clubs. You will examine the relationship between the trustees, the legal owners, and the beneficiaries, the equitable owners, and the very specific remedial structure that governs this relationship. You will also deal with situations when trusts are imposed by operation of the law, for example, to prevent fraudulent conduct.

Intended learning outcomes

Develop unit-specific knowledge and understanding of the rollercoaster and operation of English trusts law. By the end of the unit a successful student should be able to:

  1. Construct and articulate principles of trusts law, drawing on a range of different sources of material including both primary and secondary legal materials
  2. Critically evaluate the role of trustee in different forms of trust, and the various possible consequences of breach of trust
  3. Analyse and critique the way in which the law responds to particular issues in trusts law, and the coherence of different approaches
  4. Display an awareness of when and why trust law is deployed by those seeking to organise their financial affairs or by the courts in response to people’s conduct
  5. Display an awareness of the role of trusts in commercial transactions
  6. Show an understanding of the defects of the current law and how it might be reformed

By the end of the unit, you should be able to cite any relevant statutory provisions accurately and analyse complex problems, to identify the legal issues raised and identify the applicable legal principles.

Teaching details

This unit is taught by way of 20-30 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions. Lectures are delivered jointly to students on the related undergraduate unit.

Assessment Details

Summative: a 2000 word essay (33%) and a 3 hour written examination (67%). Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative: students should do one formative assessment (this will usually be 1 x 1500 word essay).

Reading and References

There are a great number of textbooks on Trusts available, of differing lengths, and displaying a variety of different styles, approaches and levels of detail. The vast majority of Trusts textbooks are very good, and so much depends on the kind of writing you prefer. It is worth taking a look at some of the available books before purchase (in the book shop, in the library, or online) to find one that best meets your own preferences. Ideally your textbook should both explain the key principles, and encourage you to consider the law critically. With this in mind the main recommended textbooks for this unit are (the latest editions) of:

  • Virgo, The Principles of Equity and Trusts (Oxford, latest edition), or
  • Watt, Trusts & Equity (Oxford, latest edition), or
  • Moffatt, Trusts Law (Cambridge, latest edition)

Of these, Virgo is a very clear and detailed textbook, and probably the best all-rounder of the three recommended texts. However Watt is another very good and clearly written textbook which covers the principles well and is a little more concise than Virgo. Moffat is rather different, providing a more critical and theoretical approach to trusts law, with a mix of commentary and materials – if you like Moffat you may still want to combine it with a more conventional and shorter textbook to help you get the basics clear.

There are lots of shorter textbooks available too. Recommended shorter books, that you might find helpful to supplement and support your reading and revision include:

  • Webb & Akkouh, Trusts Law (Palgrave, latest edition)
  • Hudson, Understanding Equity and Trusts (Routledge, latest edition)