As established by Lord Mcnaghten

For a trust to be termed charitable it must benefit or be intended to benefit the public at large.   In Re Horbourn Air Raid Distress Fund [1946] Ch. 194 an emergency fund which had been built up during the war had been used partly for comforts for ex0-employees serving in the forces and later for employees who had suffered distress from the air raids.  An application was made to court with respect to surplus funds arising from this fund and it was held that because of the absence of a public element no charitable trust had been created and the surplus funds should be returned to the contributors.

In the case of Oppenheim V. Tobacco Securities Trust Co Ltd [1951] A.C. 297  Trustees had been directed under a settlement to apply monies in providing for the education of children of employees or ex-employees of BAT or any of its subsidiaries or allied companies.  The employees numbered over 110,000.  the question was whether or not the settlement was a charitable trust.  The House of Lords held that although the group of persons indicated was numerous, the nexus between them was employment by a particular employer and it therefore followed that the Trust did not satisfied the test of public benefit which was required to establish it as charitable.

In Re Compton [1945] Ch. 123 a trust for the education of the descendants of 3 named persons was held not to be a charitable trust because the beneficiaries were identified by reference to a personal relationship and it therefore lacked the quality of a public trust.  It was a family trust and not one for the benefit of a section of the public.  Therefore an aggregate of individuals ascertained by reference to some personal tie such as blood or contract for example the relations of a particular individual, the members of a particular family or the members of a particular association does not amount to the public or a section thereof for the purpose of the general rule and will not accordingly rank as legally charitable.


Poverty does not constitute destitution it can cover for example the provision of flats at economic rents to benefit old people of small means or to assist widows and orphans of the deceased officers of a bank as in Re Coulthurst [1951] Ch. 661.  Conversely a person is not necessarily poor merely because he cannot afford to provide for himself the advantages that the trust will give him.  Thus a trust to provide dwellings for the working classes in Re Saunders Wills Trust [1954] Ch. 265 was held not charitable and so too a trust to encourage a migration generally in the case of Re Sidney [1908] 1Ch. 488 which was a bequest in trust for “such charitable uses or for such emigration uses or partly for such charitable uses and partly for such emigration uses as the trustees may think fit.”  The trust was firstly held void for uncertainty and master of the Rolls went on to express the view that emigration uses are not necessarily objects of general public utility.  In Re Saunders the testator had directed that his trustee should apply certain property “in any manner in which he considers to be in furtherance of any general charitable intention with regard to the disposal thereof namely to provide dwellings for the working classes and their families residents in the area of Pembroke Dock Pembroke Shire Wales.”  It was held
1.            The gift for the working classes was not a gift for the relief of poverty and was therefore not a charitable one;

2.            Notwithstanding the testator reference to his general charitable intention no such intention was to be inferred as the phrase as used by the testator was referable only to the particular non-charitable purpose of erecting houses for the working classes.

The doctrine of           - general intention of charity

In Sheikh Fazal etc Trust V. Commissioner of Income Tax [1957] EA 616 in which the case of Re Pemsel was applied.  The words “for the benefit or towards the relief of poor and needy Muslims in Mecca and/or Medina” were held to constitute a charitable trust within the meaning of the Income Tax Act.


The general rule is that there must be an intention that learning should be imparted not simply that it be accumulated.  The tendency is however to widen the fields of education.  The rule in its somewhat restrictive sense appears to have been adopted by Harman J. in Re Shaw [1957]1 LR 729  it is clear however that advancement of education is broader than the concept of a classroom or formal institution.  However there must be an element of instruction and improvement. Examples of what has been held charitable under this head includes
(a)          The foundation of lectureship in universities;
(b)          Carol singing;
(c)          A trust for “Education, self control oratory, deportment and the arts of personal contact in Ireland in Re Shaws [1952] Ch. 163
(d)          The endowment of a National Theatre Re Shakespeare Memorial Trust (1963) Ch.
(e)          A trust for reviving classical drama;
(f)           Trust for the production of a dictionary;
(g)          Publication of Law Reports (Incorporated Council for Law Reporting for England and Wales V. A.G.
(h)          Prices for sports at an educational establishment;;
(i)            Publication of vernacular Newspapers Re Tanganyika National Newspapers Ltd [1959] E.A. 1057

Those held not to be charitable include

(a)          A trust to found a college for training spiritualistic mediums Re Hummelttenburg {1923} 1 Chg. 213
(b)          A trust for preserving a useless collection of pictures and furniture as a Museum Re Pinion [1965] Ch. 85
(c)          Political purposes which are put forward as educational purposes Re Hopkinson (1949) 1 All E.R. 346.

In the case of Re Hopkins Wills Trust (1965) Ch. 669 the testatrix had given her residuary estate to the Francis Bacon Society to be applied towards finding the Bacon/Shakespeare Manuscripts.  One of the main objects of the society was to encourage the general study of the evidence of Francis Bacon’s authorship of plays commonly ascribed to Shakespeare.  The terms of the Will were held to mean that the money was to be used to search for manuscripts of plays commonly ascribed to Shakespeare but believed by the testatrix and society to have been written by Bacon.  The Judge held that the purposes of search or research for original manuscripts of England’s greatest dramatist were within the law’s conception of a charitable purpose on two grounds:

1.            As being for education;
2.            As being for other purposes beneficial to the community within the fourth head of Lord Mcnaghten’s classification because it was a gift for the improvement of the country’s literary heritage.

Wilberforce J. spelt out the requirements that must be satisfied by research as follows:

1.            It must be of educational value to the researcher;
2.            It must be so directed as to lead to something which will  pass into the store of educational material;
3.            It must be so as to improve the sum of communicable knowledge in an area which education may cover;


Under this group there is a large measure of tolerance in equity and as long as the purpose is not subversive of other religions or morality, it will be upheld as charitable.  In Thornton V Howe (1862) 31 Beav . 14 the master of the rolls recognised as charitable a Trust for the publication of one Joana Southcott even though he evidently thought her doctrines were ridiculous.  There appear to be limits to the court’s latitude  in Jeap Cheah Neo V. Ong Cheng Neo (1875) L.R. 381

The privity council held that a trust requiring ancestor worship was not charitable  the Courts concerned would then appear to be only monotheistic religions.  Like in other charities the religious purpose must confer some benefit to the public.  Thus in the case of Gilmour V. Coats [1949] A C 426 a Trust Fund to be applied to the purposes of a Carmelite Convent which comprised an association of strictly cloistered and purely contemplative nuns who did not engage in any activities for people outside the convent was held to fail by the house of Lords on two grounds
(a)          The benefit of intercessory prayer could not be proved in law;
(b)          The Element of edification was too vague and intangible;

Examples of trusts held charitable under this head include:

1.            Support for a religious order or community e.g. a monastery or convent;
2.            Saying of prayers for the dead. Refer to Re Caus (1934) Ch. 162
3.            The improvement of musical services in the Church;
4.            A gift for God’s work has also been held to constitute a valid trust in Re Barker’s Wills Trust [1948] 64 LTR 273
5.            The repair of a Church Yard or Burial ground;
6.            Repair of headstones in a graveyard;

Those held not charitable under this Head include:

1.            A trust for the upkeep of a particular tomb;
2.            A trust to establish a Catholic Daily Newspapers which was held to be only partly conducive to religion in the case of Roman Catholic Arch Bishop of Melbourne V. Lawlor 51 CLR 1. 

It is essential that the trust be exclusively charitable and it will fail if it mixes religious objects with some other non charitable purposes.  Thus in the case of Dunne V. Byrne [1912] A.C. 407  a gift was made to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane and his successors to be used “as they judged most conducive to the good of religion in the diocese was held to be to wide and therefore failed.  So too a gift for parish work in Farley V. Westminister Bank [1939] AC 430 . 

In the White Paper of 1939 under the heading ‘Charities a Framework for the Future-Charities Act 1992’ it was noted anxieties have been expressed in particular about a number of organisations whose influence over their followers especially the young is seen as destructive of family life and in some cases as tantamount to brain washing”


This is a residuary class under Lord Mcnaughten’s classification and as a result provides the most varied set of decisions of trusts held charitable.  The courts have held that any objects within this class must still be within the statute of Elizabeth or at least with the spirit of the statute.  Therefore even though it is a vague and general class, it does not cover every public utility.  The courts approached the category on the tests of whether it is within the statutes and whether it is beneficial to the public.  Examples of trusts held charitable under this heading include

1.            A trust for the protection of animals;  Refer to Re Hedgewood [1915] 1 Ch. 113;
2.            A trust for the provision of a fire brigade;
3.            Trusts for Hospitals but not a nursing home for private profits;
4.            Trust for the Defence of the country;
5.            A trust for a animal hospital;
6.            A home for lost dogs;  Re Douglas (1887) 37 Ch.D 472  Emphasis here was laid on public utility which is not the normal trend with respect to animal trusts.

A gift for the suppression of vivisection has been held not to be charitable although it was once charitable.  Refer to National anti Vivisection V. IRC [1948] AC. 31 on the ground that the benefit of suppressing vivisection did not outweigh the benefit to be derived from it.

Among the most important charities under this head are recreational trust and in the UK this are now governed by the Recreational Charities Act of 1958.  The Act was enacted after what was felt to be an inconvenient decision by the House of Lords in the Case of Inland Revenue Commissioner V. Baddeley [1955] A.C. 572.  This case concerned certain trusts “for the promotion of the moral social and physical well-being of persons residents in West Ham and Leyton who for the time being are members or likely to become members of the Methodist Church by the provision of facilities for moral social and physical training and recreation”.  The House of Lords decided that the Trusts failed because they were expressed in a language so vague as to permit the property to be used for purposes which the law did not recognise as charitable and also because they did not satisfy the necessary test of public benefit.  The decision threatened the validity of many trusts which had for a long time enjoyed charitable status such as women’s institutions, boys clubs, miners welfare trust, village halls etc and therefore the need for legislative intervention.

Section 1(1) of the Act provides that it shall be and shall be deemed always to have been charitable to provide all assist in providing facilities for recreation or other leisure time occupations if the facilities are provided in the interest of social welfare.  The sub section also contains an overriding proviso that the trust must be for public benefit.  The requirement that facilities must be provided in the interest of social welfare is not satisfied unless

1.            It is provided with the object of improving the conditions of life for the persons for whom the facilities are primarily intended and;
2.            Either
(a)          The persons have need for such facilities by reason of their age, youth, infirmity or disablement, poverty or social and economic circumstances; or
(b)          The facilities are to be available to the members or females members of the public at large;

In conclusion therefore, it can only be said that each charitable trust must promote a public benefit but not everything that promotes a public benefit is such a trust.  Therefore a private trust which may benefit the public does not thereby become a public trust.  Public refers to the public in general or a section of the public.  A trust will be charitable if it confers a public benefit and is aimed at the public at large even though by its very nature only a limited number of people can avail themselves of that benefit.

The Courts of Chancery have defined thus “On the one hand a form of relief extended to the whole community yet by its very nature advantageous only to the few and on the other hand a form of relief accorded to a selected few out of a larger number equally able and willing to take advantage of it.  The first is charitable and there is a public benefit while the second does not have a public benefit.  The question of whether the gift is charitable is one of evidence to be decided upon by the courts and the opinion of the donor that he gives his gift to the public is not material.

There is an exception to the rule that a charitable trust must be for charitable benefit and that is the trust for the relief of poverty.  Such a trust in favour of ones relations or members of a club or employees of a particular employer although having a restricted class of beneficiaries is nonetheless charitable.  The exception is well established but is anomalous and will not be extended by analogy.  For example a trust for the education of ones relatives has been held not to be charitable.


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