Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Re West Sussex Constabulary Trusts  Ch. 1, it was found that the closure of a trust fund to benefit third parties does not create a resulting trust for subscribers or outright donors of the fund.
Facts of the Case
- Members of the West Sussex Constabulary subscribed to a fund with the purpose of granting allowances to the widows and dependents of deceased members.
- Other revenue was generated from the proceeds of entertainments, raffles and sweepstakes, collecting boxes and donations (including legacies).
- On 1st January 1968, the constabulary was amalgamated with other police forces in the UK. On 7th June, a members’ meeting resolved to amend and wind up the fund and distribute its assets under a scheme prescribed in the resolution.
- On a summons by the trustees for the court’s approval, the court ruled that the meeting on 7th June was abortive; there were no members after 1967 capable of holding a meeting to resolve the objectives outlined at that meeting.
- Who did the fund belong to and who were its beneficiaries?
- Was there a resulting trust for the living members of the constabulary and the personal representatives of deceased members(C)?
- Did the contribution of other revenue and donations create/affect any resulting trusts?
Held by the Chancery Division
- The fund could not belong to C since only third parties could benefit from normal operations of the trust fund. There was no resulting trust since their money had been given up on a contractual basis, making it bona vacantia (ownerless property).
- Similarly, money received from other revenues not including donations had been given on a contractual basis, and as such was bona vacantia.
- Regarding donations, the purpose of the donations was unequivocal, so there was a resulting trust of these for the donors or their estates.
- It has been argued that the money belongs to the existing members based on case law referring to members clubs. This is not applicable in the current case for three reasons.
- First, it does not resemble one; this was a pension or dependent relatives funds.
- Secondly, in all cases where surviving members received the surplus funds (excluding the Irish case Tierney v Tough) the club existed for the benefit of its members exclusively, whereas only third parties benefited in this case.
- Finally, this argument was previously rejected in Cunnack v Edwards  1 Ch. 489. It also rejected the further argument that the surviving members had the power to amend the rules of the fund and ought to be treated as its owners; they failed to exercise this power when they had the chance.
- The funds raised from subscriptions and other revenues including donations cannot be subject to a resulting trust because these were given up under contract. Persons who remained members until their deaths are already excluded because their widows or dependents received the contractual benefits, or they had no widow or dependents. Accordingly, all these funds are bono vacantia.
- “The only case which has given me difficulty on this aspect is In re Hobourn Aero Components Ltd.’s Air Raid Distress Fund  Ch. 86, where in somewhat similar circumstances it was held there was a resulting trust. The argument postulated, I think, the distinction between contract and trust but in another connection, namely, whether the fund was charitable…as Cohen J. observed, there was no argument for bona vacantia. Moreover, no rules or regulations were ever made and there were no prescribed contractual benefits. In my judgment that case is therefore distinguishable” [10D].
- The funds raised from donations is distinguished from other revenues because the intentions of donations in this case were unequivocal and not charitable. Since these donations can no longer achieve their purpose, these funds do create a resulting trust for the donors and their estates.