Maciejeski v Telstra Super Pty Ltd

Maciejewski v Telstra Super Pty Ltd [1998] 44 NSWLR 601

Held by Young J:

  • (1) While not interfering with the proper discretion of trustees, the court has the role of ensuring that trustees behave fairly and properly;
  • (2) The trustee is not bound to give reasons in exercising its discretion concerning a beneficiary’s claim, but an absence of reasons tends to make a prima facie case that the trustee’s discretion has miscarried a virtual certainty;
  • (3) If the claimant ha snot supplied sufficient material for a proper decision t be made, the trustee should ensure that sufficient material is obtained.

Young J made the observation that:

“Unfortunately in may ways the scheme which was set up by the Commonwealth Parliament to review these matters has fallen foul of the Australian Constitution, so that it is still necessary for this Court to superintend trusts because ultimately it this Court that is responsible to see that trustees comply with their duties and that beneficiaries receive what is rightfully theirs, no more, no less.”

Young J further observed:

“It is true that this court does not usurp the position of trustees. This Court does not reach the view that trustees ought to have reached. The role of this Court is to ensure that trustees behave fairly and properly and treat the beneficiaries as human beings”

“Although the Court will not interfer with the proper discretion of trustees, the Court will also not allow people who are using their power under a trust deed to deny the beneficiary rights by incompetence or inaction: see Dundee General Hospital Board of Management v Walker [1952] 1 All ER 896 at 905.

As Robert Walker J said in Scott v National Trust [1998] 2 All ER 705 at 719:

“If a decision taken by trustees is directly attacked in legal proceedings, the trustees may be compelled either legally (through discovery or supoena) or practically (in order to avoid adverse inferences being drawn) to disclose the substance of the reasons for their decisions”.

The extent of trustees’ obligations is well set out by Robert Walker J in Scott v National Trust [1998] 2 All ER 705 at 717:

“I have heard a lot of submissions about the duties of trustees in making decisions in exercising their fiduciary functions. Certain points are clear beyond argument. Trustees must act in good faith, responsibly and reasonably. They must inform themselves, before making a decision, of matters which are relevant to the decision. These matters may not be limited to simple matters of fact but will, on occasion (indeed, quite often) include taking advice from appropriate experts, whether the experts are lawyers, accountants, actuaries, surveyors, scientists or whomwhatsoever. It is however for advisors to advise and for trustees to decide: trustees may not (except in so far as they are authorised to do so) delegate the exercise of their discretions, even to experts”.




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