The recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Pitt v Holt  [2011] EWCA Civ 197has drastically curtailed the scope of the so-called 'rule in Re Hastings-Bass' which for twenty years has frustrated any attempt at a principled understanding of equity's controls on the exercise of powers and discretions by trustees.   

Pitt has replaced the former approach - which was based on whether, with the benefit of hindsight, the trustees ought to have done what they did - with a new test which looks at whether the trustees acted reasonably and responsibly in the circumstances in which they found themselves.

The purpose of the talk is to evaluate Pitt v Holt as a contribution to our understanding of powers held by trustees and other fiduciaries. It will seek to show that Pitt has brought the law in line with principle, albeit in a manner which departs from some orthodox understanding of powers, and to defend it from the criticisms made by, among others, Lord Walker and Lord Neuberger, that the Re Hastings-Bass 'rule' should not exist at all. The talk will also explore the consequences of the Pitt decision and how the law should develop: whether it should apply to non-trustee fiduciaries and to non-fiduciary powers; whether it expands the scope of trustees' personal liability; and whether dispositive and administrative powers should be treated alike.