By Cathy Hoang, University of Technology Sydney

This case note was originally published in the Animal Law Case Book, ed Sophie Riley (1st ed, 2015) and has been republished with minor edits by Voiceless with permission from the editor.   

Citation: Perpetual Trustees Tasmania Ltd v State of Tasmania [2000] TASSC 68

Court – Supreme Court of Tasmania
Judge – Slicer J
Date of Judgment – 16 June 2000

FACTS OF THE CASE

Thompson, the testatrix, gifted her “dutiable estate” or “residual estate” to Matterson, her trustee, for “his use absolutely” (clause 8). However, she also proclaimed that this property was to be used for the purposes, and in support of, “animal welfare”; the trustee was given absolute discretion to determine how the property was used in this respect (clause 9). The Perpetual Trustees Tasmania Ltd instituted proceedings in the Supreme Court of Tasmania to investigate the objective intentions and desire of the will drafted by the testatrix.

THE ISSUES

  • Whether Matterson received an absolute gift of the entire residuary estate or only that property upon which duty is payable by reason of Thompson’s death.
  • If the gift was limited to the property upon which duty was payable by reason of Thompson’s death, whether the clause committing the property to animal welfare constituted a valid charitable trust.

THE DECISION

The extent of the gift to Matterson

The Court emphasised that the gift to Matterson in clause 8 was to be interpreted in light of the other powers extended to him in the will. It identified the way in which the will contemplated that Matterson may decline to act as trustee and noted that it was “inconceivable that the testatrix intended to vest all or portion of her estate to a stranger”. Any construction of clause 8 as an absolute gift would have also rendered other provisions of the will redundant. For these reasons, the Court found that “[t]he term ‘absolutely’ relates to the discretionary purpose stated in clause 9. Clause 8 is a direction which coupled with clause 9 sets out the terms of the bequest”. There was no bequest to the trustee created by clause 8.

Whether a valid charitable trust was created

The Court distinguished the decision in Murdoch v The Attorney-General (1992) 1 Tas R 117 where a gift to a named veterinary surgeon “for the benefit of animals generally” was held not to be a charitable trust because the trust was construed to be for the benefit of animals, rather than the public. In the current case, Slicer J found that a bequest for “animal welfare” was a trust that could be deemed as charitable and also found that the word “welfare” is a term that connotes public interest. According to Slicer J:

a gift for the benefit of animals generally cannot be said to be for the benefit of the community. But the protection of homeless or unwanted animals, the suppression of cruelty to animals and the provision of veterinary treatment for stray animals have been held to be ones of charitable purpose… The rationale that in order to be charitable the terms of a trust must be of benefit to humankind can be accepted when the prevention of cruelty to animals, the prevention of the destruction of species, imbalance within the environment within the environment with the attendant harm to animals, are matters which enhance the life of humans.

Slicer J found that the predominant purpose of the trust was charitable, and as such, even if “welfare” could be said to connote charitable and non-charitable purposes, it would nonetheless be valid (Variation of Trusts Act 1994 (Tas) s 4). It was held that Thompson’s intention was unambiguous: “[t]he evidence shows that her predominant purpose was for the protection and care of animals who were neglected, abandoned or otherwise at risk.” As such, the will was found to create a valid charitable trust.

COMMENTARY

The case emphasises that the prevention of cruelty to animals and the protection of homeless or unwanted animals may be acceptable charitable purposes as they “enhance the life of humans”. The reasoning in the decision also highlights the anthropocentricity of the legal system; beneficial legal constructs such as charitable trusts are only available where human interests are furthered by their application.

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