High court rules university must pay for upkeep of collection

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The High Court has ruled that a collection of books and photographs given to the University of London on 'special trusts' must be housed for perpetuity in a separate institute.

Following disagreement about the University's obligations towards the collection, the court was asked to interpret the trust deed and confirm how and where the books and photographs should be kept. The court ruled that the collection was held as a separate charitable trust and that the University must house, maintain and preserve it in an independent institution called the "Warburg Institute" for perpetuity. Furthermore the institute should be adequately equipped and staffed.

The key point here is that the collection was held on 'special trusts', which require it to be treated independently from the University's other assets. The outcome contrasts with the decision in the 2011 case concerning the Wedgwood heritage collection. In that case (Young and another v HM Attorney General and others [2011]), the court found that the collection was not held on special trusts but instead formed part of the company's corporate property. As such, the collection was available to meet the company's insolvency costs and liabilities, including a large group pension deficit.

It should be noted that the outcomes of both cases turned on the individual facts of each case; there has not been a reinterpretation of the underlying legal principles. However, the rulings provide helpful interpretation for charities holding property on trusts and highlight the issues charities need to address when seeking to protect the future of a heritage collection.

View the link to read the Warburg Institute's press release on the court's ruling.

If you are an incorporated charity with heritage assets and you are concerned about whether they will be protected in the event of insolvency please contact any member of our Charities team for advice.