Bona vacantia

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Ownerless goods. Under English law, the general principle is that any genuinely ownerless property (of whatever type, including land) reverts to the Crown. In practice, courts rarely make the determination that property is ownerless; instead, they employ a number of devices (such as a resulting trust) to 'find' an owner where there would otherwise be none. The issue of bona vacantia seems to arise most often in the context of public fund-raising drives. Generally speaking, where charitable funds are raised and there is money left over once the goal has been achieved, the surplus may be deemed ownerless. Although a resulting trust could (theoretically) arise here in favour of the contributors, such a trust would likely be unworkable. (See, for instance, Re West Sussex Constabulary's Widows, Children and Bene v olent Fund Trusts (1971)). However, in Air Jamaica v Charlton (1999), it was decided (consistent with West Sussex and perhaps out of line with the leading authority in this matter, Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale v Islington LBC (1996)) that a resulting trust would arise where the number of contributors was small and readily ascertainable.

Trust Law