The seminal third party contract case Trident General Insurance Co Ltd v McNiece Bros Pty Ltd  HCA 44 was decided twenty five years ago. It continues to be relevant to legal practice and legal education. It has had a lasting and important impact on insurance contracts, as it decided that the doctrine of privity did not apply to those contract. Typically the doctrine of privity means that only the parties to a contract are bound by it, and a person who is not a party to a contract (a ‘third party’) cannot enforce it. For example, suppose that Alphonse makes a contract with Bertha to the effect that Bertha will give Clarence an annuity after Alphonse dies. If Alphonse dies, and Bertha refuses to pay the annuity to Clarence, Clarence can’t force Bertha to keep to the contract because he is not a party to it.
The case also remains a reminder that the High Court will, when presented with the right circumstances, rework the law to achieve a just and fair outcome. In this post I will explore how the decision on the doctrine of privity has become entrenched; and discuss the impact on the decision, in particular the judgment of Deane J on our understanding of the law of express trusts.
What happened in Trident? Continue reading