Cases have frequently arisen where the carelessness of a customer in filling up cheques has enabled a person to fraudulently increase the sum for which such cheques were originally drawn. In Colonial Bank of Australasia v. Marshall , A.C. 559, the judicial committee of the privy council held that the affording such facilities for forgery was no breach of the customer's duty to his banker, and that the latter was not entitled to debit the customer with more than the original amount. As before stated, the customer's dealings with the pass-book cannot, in the present state of the authorities, be relied on as debarring him from disputing unauthorized payments appearing therein.
The payment of bills accepted payable at the bank is not, Custody of valuables. like the payment of cheques, an essential obligation of the banker, and the risk involved is enhanced by the fact that the banker must pay or refuse payment at once, no interval being allowed for verification of endorsements. The abolition or modification of the practice has frequently been advocated, but it is one of the facilities which competition compels bankers to extend to their customers. On the same basis stands the receipt of a customer's valuables for safe custody. The question of the banker's responsibility for the loss of goods so deposited with him was raised, but not decided, in an action brought by Mrs Langtry against the Union Bank of London in 1896. Certain jewels belonging to her had been delivered up by the bank to an unauthorized person on a forged order. The case was settled; but bankers being desirous to ascertain their real position, many legal opinions were taken on the point, and after consideration of these, the Central Association of Bankers issued a memorandum, in which they stated that the best legal opinion appeared to be that a distinction must be drawn between cases in which valuables were by mistake delivered to the wrong person and cases in which they were destroyed, lost, stolen or fraudulently abstracted, whether by an officer of the bank or some other person.
That in the former case the question of negligence did not arise, the case being one of wrongful conversion of the goods by a voluntary act for which the bank was liable apart from any question of negligence. That, in the second case, that of loss or theft, the banker, being a gratuitous bailee, would only be liable if he had failed to use such care as an ordinary prudent man would take of valuables of his own. The latter rule is practically that laid down in Giblin v. MacMullen, L.R. 2 P.C. 318, but in estimating the amount of care to be taken by the banker, the nature of the goods, if known or suspected, and the exceptional means of protection at the disposition of bankers, such as strong-rooms, must be taken into consideration. Methods of obviating both classes of risk by means of special receipts have frequently been suggested, but such receipts do not appear to have come into general use.
Theoretically, bankers are supposed to refuse accounts which Trustees. are either expressedly or are known to be trust accounts. In practice, however, it is by no means uncommon to find accounts opened with a definite heading indicating the fiduciary capacity. In other cases, circumstances exist which affect the banker with notice of that capacity. In either case, however, the obligation to honour the customer's cheque is the predominant factor, and the banker is not bound or entitled to question the propriety or object of the cheque, unless he has very clear evidence of impending fraud (Gray v. Johnston, L.R. 3 H. of L. 1). Even though the banker have derived some personal benefit from the transaction, it cannot be impeached unless the banker's conduct amount in law to his being party or privy to the fraud, as where he has stipulated or pressed for the settlement or reduction of an ascertained overdraft on private account, which has been effected by cheque on the trust account (Coleman v. Bucks & Oxon Union Bank , 2 Ch. 243). A banker is entitled, in dealing with trust moneys, known to be such, to insist on the authority of the whole body of trustees, direct and not deputed, and this is probably the safest course to adopt.
Scarcely larger responsibility devolves on Joint Stock Banks appointed custodian trustees under the Public Trustee Act 1906, a remunerative position involving custody of trust funds and securities, and making and receiving payments on behalf of the estate, while leaving the active direction thereof in the hands of the managing trustees.
Other incidents of the ordinary practice of banking are the Bill-discounting. discounting of bills, the keeping of deposit accounts, properly so called, and the making of advances to customers, counting either by way of definite loan or arranged overdraft. So far as the discounting of bills is concerned, there is little to differentiate the position of the banker from that of any ordinary bill-discounter. It has been contended, however, that the peculiar attribute of the banker's lien entitled him to hold funds of the customer against his liability on current discounted bills. This contention was ultimately disposed of by Bowen v. Foreign & Colonial Gas Company, 22 W.R. 740, where it was pointed out that the essential object of a customer's discounting bills with his banker was to feed the current account, and that a possible liability constituted no set-off against an existing debt. Whether a particular bill has been taken for discount or collection is a question of fact. As in the payment of bills, so in the collection of them, there is no statutory protection whatever for the banker; as against third parties he can only rely either on the customer's title or his own as a holder for value, if no forged endorsement intervene and he can establish a consideration.
A deposit account, whether at call or on fixed notice, does not Deposit accounts. constitute any fiduciary relation between the depositor and the banker, but merely a debt due from the latter to the former. It has been suggested that cheques can be drawn against deposit account on call, and, though a banker might safely honour such a cheque, relying, if necessary, on his right of lien or set-off, there appears no legal right in the customer to enforce such payment. Deposit receipts given by bankers are exempt from stamp duty, even though they contain an undertaking with respect to payment of principal and interest. They are clearly not negotiable instruments, but it is difficult to deduce from the cases how far dealings with them may amount to an equitable assignment of the moneys they represent. Probably deliberate definite transfer, coupled with endorsement, would confer an effective title to such moneys. Where, as is not uncommon, the form of deposit note includes a cheque, the banker could not refuse to pay were the cheque presented and any superadded formalities complied with.