Four cases of Judge Sumner

John Andrew Hamilton, Viscount Sumner (1859-1934), regarded as one of the greatest of English Judges [1] , Lord Sumner has known in large qualities like, wisdom and lucidity. He has many cases in the area of equity and trusts law. His judgement helped to build up a new shape of a modern equity law. His judgments are remained in common use in other subsequent cases to this day.

This paper covers four cases of Judge Sumner; it is going to explain how his judgments in these cases affected the law of equity and trust in a different way. For instance, in Blackwell v Blackwell [2] the judgment of Lord Sumner will be examined and it will be shown that a significant contribution to the development in equity was made as a result of Sumner’s decision in this case; the law of equity was capable to expand in regards to half-secret trusts. On the other hand in Leeds Industrial Co-Operative Society v Slack [3] the decision will then be illustrated, which shows the method of developing the law in regards to damages which may be awarded in substitution for an injunction, as a result it shows that this reasoning had been used in subsequent cases. Lord Sumner’s judgment in Sinclair v Brougham [4] shows how equity has developed in relation to persons who are of unequal standing and thus subjected to unconscionable conduct. Thus, it will also be shown that, these principles had been supported the argument in further cases. As a result, it developed them, thereby illustrating the significance of Sumner’s reasoning. However, in relation to persons who are of unequal and thus subjected to unconscionable conduct, was demonstrated in the decision in R. Leslie Ltd v Sheill [5] , and therefore led to the advancement of equity law.

Blackwell v Blackwell

The judgment of Lord Sumner in Blackwell v Blackwell [6] made a major function to the development of equity in relation to half secret trusts. This case set the requirement for valid half-secret trusts “the settlor must intend to create such a trust. As well as, the existence and terms of the trust must be communicated to the intended trustee before the execution of the will." [7] Furthermore, “the intended trustee must then accept the office of trustee and acquiesce to the terms of the trust." [8] Accordingly, Lord Sumner enunciated this when he set out the essential principles of half-secret trusts on which the question turns out are, an intention to create a trust, communication of that intention, and acquiescence between the settlor and the trustee [9] . Thus, Lord Sumner pointed out that, in a half secret trust, the testator must intend to create a trust, as he desires. The trust has to be clear, and communication has to take place between the testator and the trustee before or at the time, the will is executed [10] . In effect, it is evident from this decision that the development of half-secret trusts was ascertained which is evidenced by the fact that subsequent case law have also applied the reasoning as in Re Keen [11] and Re Bateman’s WT. [12] 

The decision of Lord Sumner in Blackwell clarified the principle upon which equity recognises. Additionally, enforces secret trusts with great clarity [13] . Nevertheless, it has been stated, “the reasoning gives very little countenance to the distinction between cases, where no trust appears on the face of the will, and cases where a trust appears on the face of will. Since after all a trustee is just as much the absolute legal owner as a person to whom the legal ownership has been given without any mention of a trust." [14] However, this case paved the way for the development of half-secret trust. “The justification given by Lord Sumner in Blackwell; is to prevent an infringement of the provisions of the Wills Act 1837. And this is judicially considered to be the case if an unattested document or parol evidence is intended to be admitted to prove the terms of the trust when the testator makes provision in his or her will for a future communication of the terms of the trust." [15] Consequently, these principles set the way, to other cases, which developed equity law, and helps to prevent fraud in relation to the term of a trust.

Leeds Industrial Co-Operative Society v Slack

In this case, the plaintiff brought an action against the defendant society for an injunction and damages, regarding an alleged obstruction of ancient light. However, the obstruction had not taken place yet. Lord Sumner dismissed the appeal in Leeds Industrial Co-Operative Society v Slack [16] , he made it clear that, damages may be awarded in substitution for an injunction. Therefore, his decision guided the development for equity, mainly for remedies. Lord Sumner held that; “no money awarded in substitution can be justly awarded. unless it is at any rate designed to be a preferable equivalent for an injunction and therefore an adequate substitute for it, and this involves the necessity for taking the future as well as the past and the present into account so as to end matters once for all." [17] . On the other hand, this established the development for remedies, which may be awarded, even thought the “Judicature Acts 1873-75 both legal and equitable remedies have been available in the same court, but it seems that the template governing the principles that are applicable to injunctions remains the same." [18] The reasoning of this case is still valid; the decision in this case was further expanded upon in Seager v Copydex Ltd (No 2) [19] , where “the Court of Appeal agreed and awarded the claimant common law damages" [20] . As it was held “in conformity with the general principles governing the assessment of damages, where a plaintiff was entitled to damages for breach of confidence in respect of confidential information used by the defendant, the court directed that the damages should be assessed on the market value of the information as between a willing buyer and a willing seller."

The judgment by Sumner in Slack allowed further principles to be established in later cases, which rested upon the basis formulated in Slack. Apparently, this case shaped an important decision, which is still capable of subsisting today and ultimately assisted in the development of equity. In Jaggard v Sawyer [21] was found that “the measure of damages may be appropriate in cases in which the court declines to grant an injunction to prevent the commission of a future wrong." Which prove that Lord Sumner’s decision in Leeds Industrial Co-Operative Society v Slack [22] , that the future is considered as well as the past and the present in deciding whether it would be appropriate or not to award damages or an injunction.

Sinclair v Brougham

It was held in Re Hallet Estate [23] that; “Where a trustee mixes trust money with his or her own money in a bank account and then withdraws money from that account, it is assumed that the trustee first took out his or her own money rather than money belonging to a trust beneficiary." [24] Therefore, Lord Sumner used the assumption in the above case- trustees must act in reasonable and honest manner- to develop upon the rule in Sinclair v Brougham [25] .which involves a building society, established under the Building Societies Act, 1836, established, and developed. In addition, to the legitimate business of a building society, a banking business, was admitted to be ultra vires. In connection with this banking business, customers deposited sums of money in the usual way. Therefore, it caused the building society in troubles As it was held that, “the two classes of claimants were entitled to the assets rateably, following the rule in Re Hallet, that it, an order was made entitling both groups of claimants to a charge ranking in pari passu reflecting the proportions of their respective shares." [26] As a result, the trustees were entitled to the amount of their respective shares, in spite of what was taken out of the trust.

Subsequently, Lord Sumner developed this area of equity by applying the rule provided in Re Hallet. Accordingly, “the House of Lords decisions like Sinclair v Brougham through the war carried the seeds of many possible developments in the relief that equity might bring. But the opportunity for the exploitation of those seeds did not present itself until half a century later." [27] Effectively, this illustrates that Lord Sumner judgment in Sinclair helped in the growth of equity, however it did not give affect until a century later. Yet again, it is still evident that Sumner paved the way for the advancement of equitable principles to be established. This case has supported the decision in Re Diplock [28] where it was held that “analysing Sinclair v Brougham, each of the two classes of contributors claimed priority over the other, yet the two classes shared rateably and although the right of the individuals to trace their own money was preserved in the order of the House, the order provided for tracing the aggregate contributions of the two classes as classes" Thus, it was further pointed out that “the extension of the principle was the obvious and indeed on the facts, the only practicable method of securing a first distribution of the assets." Arguably, the principle in Sinclair was developed and seen even further. In addition, it was overruled in later cases [29] by the house of lord such as; Westdeutsche Landesbank v Islington BC [30] .

R.Leslie Ltd v Sheill

Lord Sumner further repeated the decision in Sinclair in the case of R. Leslie Ltd v Sheill [31] that gave an understandable indication about the way that Lord Sumner further helped to develop equity in regards to this area. Since Sinclair’s decision applied the qualification that equity involves the principle of the receiver to recognise the obligation, “it is a decision which tends to confirm the formulation" [32] as is clearly seen in the R. Leslie case. This case is about a minor who has lied about his age in order to obtain a loan from the plaintiff in order to recover the amount of the advances on the reason that they had obtained by fraudulent misrepresentation. In addition, as such, it was held that, in reliance of the formulation exemplified in Sinclair, that the minor could be forced to pay back the money in which he borrowed. Yet, the contract was not enforceable. Nevertheless, it was held; that “Sheill could not be sued for deceit because that would make a minor indirectly liable for an unenforceable contract and the court could only order restitution if the lender could prove Sheill still possessed the actual notes and coins he had borrowed."

Efficiently, this evidently shows how the reasoning in Sinclair will be capable to apply as supportive argument in other cases even where the facts of these cases are completely different. As a result, this makes it easy to realise the method that Lord Sumner had used to assist in the development of equity; he expanded upon the legal principles which laid down in another cases such as; Sinclair v Brougham.

For instance, the principles which were identified in Sheill are now accounted for under the Minors Contracts Act [33] . Which, provides that; “in relation to contracts entered into after the commencement of the Act which are unenforceable against the defendant (or which he repudiates) because he was a minor when the contract was made, the court may if it is just and equitable to do so, require the defendant to transfer to the claimant any property acquired by the defendant under the contract, or any property representing it." [34] . Accordingly, Sumner’s judgement in this case brought up the existence of this Act, and this shows that his decision helped in the development of equity law.

To conclude, all the above cases demonstrate how Lord Sumner helped in his decisions to develop the equity law. Moreover, each case affected the development of equity in a different way. For example, his decision in Blackwell v Blackwell developed the equity in relation to half-secret trusts; the reasoning that was provided is still in use nowadays in respect of this area of the law, which clearly exemplifies its significance. Additionally, the way that Lord Sumner explained and applied the reasoning in Blackwell exemplifies major the fact that subsequent cases applied the reasoning in Blackwell further highlights the contribution of Sumner’s explanations to the principle of equity law with great clarity. In addition, the decision in Leeds Industrial Co-Op v Slack further specifies the importance of Sumner’s analysis in regards to damages and injunctions ought to be effectuated. Thus, Lord Sumner judgment in this case allows a straightforward explanation of how damages may be awarded in substitution for an injunction developed because of Sumner’s decision. In addition, because succeeded cases have extended upon the reasoning of Sumner further demonstrates the cases significance. As such, it is palpable that equity in this area was developed with the assistance of Sumner’s judgments. The case of Sinclair v Brougham also helped equity to develop in relation to persons who are of unequal standing and thus subjected to unconscionable conduct. Moreover, he extended the same principle of Sinclair v Brougham in his judgment in the case R. Leslie Ltd v Sheill. Subsequently, Lord Sumner’s judgments were important in the development of equity and each one of them has contributed to the present position of the area of the law they represent.