R v C

The right to choose to engage in sexual intercourse, or even a sexual act, relies upon the powers contained under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as well as art.8 of the ECHR (Right to respect for private and family life). However, when disability fetters that discretion, the court is required to exercise greater consideration of exactly how such a vulnerability intervenes.

In summer of 2006, a 28 year-old woman suffering with schizo-affective disorder and an IQ of 75, found herself confronted by an aggressive man known to be suffering from metal health issues, and coerced into a situation whereby the defendant forced the victim to perform oral sex against her will.

Upon indictment, the defendant argued that while her illness caused fluctuating symptoms, she was at the time of the alleged offence, able to choose whether or not to engage in the act. When directing the jury, the judge remarked that in order to secure a conviction they must agree that the victim:

“[W]ould be unable to refuse if she lacked the capacity to choose whether to agree to the touching…for example, an irrational fear arising from her mental disorder or such confusion of mind arising from her mental disorder, that she felt that she was unable to refuse any request the defendants made for sex.

Alternatively, [she] would be unable to refuse if through her mental disorder she was unable to communicate such a choice to the defendants even though she was physically able to communicate with them.”

With the defendant duly convicted, he immediately appealed, during which the Court of Appeal both acknowledged and supported his original defence through Re MM, in which the court held that:

“Irrational fear that prevents the exercise of choice cannot be equated with lack of capacity to choose.”

Re MM

However, when presented to the House of Lords under challenge by the Crown, close examination of s.2(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 revealed that:

“[A] person lacks capacity in relation to a matter if at the material time he is unable to make a decision for himself in relation to the matter because of an impairment of, or disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain.”

While s.30(1)(c)(d) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states how a person is guilty of an offence if the victim is unable to refuse:

“(c)…because of or for a reason related to a mental disorder, and

(d) A knows or could reasonably be expected to know that B has a mental disorder and that because of it or for a reason related to it B is likely to be unable to refuse.”

This is further supported by s.30(2) which states that a sexual offence is recognised when:

“(2) B is unable to refuse if –

(a) he lacks the capacity to choose whether to agree to the touching (whether because he lacks sufficient understanding of the nature or reasonably foreseeable consequences of what is being done, or for any other reason), or

(b) he is unable to communicate such a choice to A.”

On this occasion, the House held that when placed into such a traumatic and hopeless situation, the victim had been unable to neither decide nor refuse the advances of the defendant, therefore there could be no doubt as to the soundness of the original conviction. It was for these reasons that the appeal was upheld, while the House reminded that had the victim been held to have capacity but been unable to communicate her refusal, the defendant would have been otherwise liable for statutory rape under ss.1 and 75(2)(e) of the 2003 Act.

British Chiropractic Association v Singh

Damages for libel and the freedom of expression, rely upon distinct terms of meaning for their preservation or application. And so on this occasion, the subjective opinion of an industry insider becomes the target of a writ that while not uncommon, does little to protect the reputation of those evaluated.

Whilst writing a tabloid article, the appellant doctor wrote of the respondents:

“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence.”

In retaliation, the respondents issued a writ for defamation on grounds that when publishing the article, the appellant had implied on the basis of fact, that the respondents lacked any credible evidence with which to support its claims. During the trial, the judge elected to apply a ‘fact’ based test, as opposed to one of subjective opinion, whereupon the jury found against the appellant and damages were set, along with injunctive remedy.

During the appeal, the Court reexamined the actions of the judge when choosing to adopt a factual premise upon which to rest the defence, while exploring the meaning of art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of expression), with particular reference to De Haes and Gijsels v Belgium, in which the Court found that a journalist accused of libellous commentary was ultimately found to have merely expressed a ‘value judgment’ based upon collective facts relating to the field under discussion.

Here, the appellant had recently co-authored a book with an established authority on the history of chiropractic medicine, who had found through direct application of the methods common to chiropractic, that despite seventy experimental trials, there was no evidence to support the claims forwarded by the respondents, hence the commentary made within the article.

With these ‘facts’ in hand, the Court held that while honest in his intentions, the trial judge had erred in treating subjective opinion and reasoned commentary as statements of fact, and that by doing so had in essence contravened the rights contained under art.10, and reinforced the notion that challenges of those in authority were subject to punishment or forfeiture.

It was for this reason that the Court reversed the previous decision, while citing the words of Judge Easterbrook in Underwager v Salter, who had clarified how:

“[Plaintiffs] cannot, by simply filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation . . . more papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of images – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us.”

Underwager v Salter

While reminding the Court that language should not be used to distort, dilute or obscure the purpose of clarity when establishing liability for defamation or libel.

Strong v Bird

While English common law requires the perfecting of a gift through written documentation, the circumstances of that prerequisite can be somewhat altered when the moment calls. On this occasion, a testatrix was ultimately able to complete an oral debt release through the appointment of her debtor as an executor.

In 1866 the deceased was cohabiting with her son in-law when due to her sizeable wealth, she entered into an agreement whereby a significant amount of rent was paid on a quarterly basis, after which the defendant borrowed £1100, on the proviso that she deducted £100 per quarter until the balance owed was clear.

After only two payments, the deceased relinquished the debt, and explained that no further deductions were necessary. This evidence was supported both by his wife and from handwritten notes left on the cheque counterfoils used before her demise.

Upon her passing, the beneficiary to her will contested that the £900 unpaid, was now owed under law, as the cessation of the loan had not been committed to any form of written notice aside from the cheque stubs, which were deemed insubstantial as proof.

Relying upon the essence of equity, the court examined the context in which her wishes had been executed, and knowing the oral and notary testimony were insufficient to stand as perfect, her appointment of the defendant as executor to her will, was evidence enough, and that while:

“The law requires nothing more than this, that in a case where the thing which is the subject of donation is transferable or releasable at law, the legal transfer or release shall take place. The gift is not perfect until what has been generally called a change of the property at law has taken place.”

Strong v Bird

Thus the court held that the deceased, having made no express acknowledgement of a debt within her will, was proof enough that the gift was perfect, and that its absence created in the defendant, an absolute right to title of the £900, therefore no challenge could be made, equitably or otherwise.

The court further noted that her further payments of full rent for a period of four years after the money had been loaned, showed again that she considered the sum paid in full, and so sought no recovery in death, as she might in life.

R v Roberts

In a case involving assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the defendant appealed on grounds that an irrational act on the part of the alleged victim was sufficient enough to constitute ‘novus actus interveniens’, thereby breaking the chain of causation and defeating the charges held against them.

In spring of 1971, the victim was an engaged twenty-something who having spent some time together at a party, had decided to join the appellant in car journey in the early hours of the morning. It was during the journey that the appellant had misled the victim as to where they were headed, after which he attempted to have sex with her, despite her immediate protestations.

Having then asked to be taken home, the appellant threatened to force her to walk back if she failed to comply with his demands, but not before he had physically assaulted her. It was at this point that he attempted to remove her coat whilst driving at speed, thereby forcing her to open the passenger door and jump out, thus suffering from mild concussion and numerous contusions as a result of her escape.

Having wandered to the nearest house, she was taken in and then safely escorted to hospital for treatment and a three-day stay with lengthy cross-examination. At trial, the judge explained to the jury that in order to find the appellant guilty, they needed to be certain that it was his actions alone that had led to the victim’s injuries, and that his efforts to disrobe her against her will were tantamount to an assault.

Using the exact words:

“[I]f you accept the evidence of the girl in preference to that of the man, that means that there was an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, that means that she did jump out as a direct result of what he was threatening her with, and what he was doing to her, holding her coat, telling her he had beaten up girls who had refused his advances, and that means that through his acts he was in law and in fact responsible for the injuries which were caused to her by her decision, if it can be called that, to get away from his violence, his threats, by jumping out of the car.”

The jury were directed as to ensure they were satisfied that the two acts were inextricably linked, and that unless they could, beyond any reasonable doubt, identify and connect them, the appellant was to escape the charge held under s.47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It was then found by the jury that despite reservations as to the weight of both parties arguments, the actions of the appellant were directly contributive to the illogical action of the victim and so the charge was upheld.

Upon appeal, the argument presented was that the judge had failed to factor the foreseeability by the appellant of the victim’s actions at the time the offence took place, and that when testing for assault, this aspect of the jury direction was absent. In response, the Court held that as was explained in R v Beech, the judge had rightly asked:

“Will you say whether the conduct of the prisoner amounted to a threat of causing injury to this young woman, was the act of jumping the natural consequence of the conduct of the prisoner, and was the grievous bodily harm the result of the conduct of the prisoner?”

R v Beech

And that at no point in English law had a prerequisite for the defendant’s mindset existed, as to allow such an obligation would immediately nullify any conviction held against them. It was then for this salient reason that the Court dismissed the appeal and secured the original conviction.

Krell v Henry

Performance of a contract since frustrated through unexpected events, lies at the heart of a matter between a landlord and potential tenant, who having secured a room for the purposes of viewing a landmark event, was left unable to realise it when those plans were thwarted through a sudden cancellation.

In 1902, the appellant had negotiated the private use of a room within a property owned by the respondent, who for reasons of convenience, had recently offered the whole property for rent for a six-month period. Having been aware that the King’s Coronation procession was expected to pass along the Pall Mall, the appellant read that the respondent was offering a single room for a fixed time and sum to those wishing to take advantage of the view afforded. By means of letter, the two parties agreed upon the arrangement, after which the appellant paid by cheque, a sum of 25l with a further 50l outstanding.

Unfortunately, the date of the procession was put back, at which point the appellant refused to pay the outstanding 50l, thereby prompting the respondent to seek recovery of the balance owed, while the appellant counter-claimed for the 25l on grounds that the contract was unenforceable and the deposit due for return.

In the fist hearing, the court awarded in favour of the respondent on both counts, relying upon the principle that the contact rested upon the presence of the Coronation procession, which for the reasons stated had not occurred, and so therefore the contract was unable to be completed to the satisfaction of both parties.

Taken to the Court of Appeal, the facts were revisited, along with the earlier facts of Taylor v Caldwell, in which it was remarked:

“[W]here, from the nature of the contract, it appears that the parties must from the beginning have known that it could not be fulfilled unless, when the time for the fulfilment of the contract arrived, some particular specified thing continued to exist, so that when entering into the contract they must have contemplated such continued existence as the foundation of what was to be done; there, in the absence of any express or implied warranty that the thing shall exist, the contract is not to be considered a positive contract, but as subject to an implied condition that the parties shall be excused in case, before breach, performance becomes impossible from the perishing of the thing without default of the contractor.”

Taylor v Caldwell

It was this approach that gave effect to the cancellation of the Coronation procession as being an event that was, as stated in Baily v De Crespigny:

“[O]f such a character that it cannot reasonably be supposed to have been in the contemplation of the contracting parties when the contract was made, and that they are not to be held bound by general words which, though large enough to include, were not used with reference to the possibility of the particular contingency which afterwards happened.”

Baily v De Crespigny

While in ‘Taylor on Evidence’ (vol II) it was also stressed that:

“It may be laid down as a broad and distinct rule of law that extrinsic evidence of every material fact which will enable the Court to ascertain the nature and qualities of the subject-matter of the instrument, or, in other words, to identify the persons and things to which the instrument refers, must of necessity be received.”

So it was for these fundamental reasons that the Court agreed with the previous decision, and ruled again in favour of the respondent, while reminding the court that:

“[W]hatever is the suggested implication – be it condition, as in this case, or warranty or representation – one must, in judging whether the implication ought to be made, look not only at the words of the contract, but also at the surrounding facts and the knowledge of the parties of those facts.”

Grant v Bragg

Sadly as can sometimes happen, the mediation by a solicitor can prove the undoing of bargaining between parties, when for one reason or another, the third party attempts to manipulate matters to the detriment of those he was initially employed to serve.

On this occasion, a shareholder sale agreement was drafted by two company co-directors, who upon his retirement, the respondent had decided to relinquish his stake holding for a sum of around £347,000. During the preliminary stages of the contract, numerous oral agreements were made with little to no conflict, however as time progressed, the matter became complicated through the construction of a draft agreement, which had been worded by a second firm of solicitors.

At the point of litigation, communication had deteriorated to a quick succession of emails between the respondent and the solicitor alleged to be acting for both parties. Within these exchanges were a number of comments and misinterpretations that ultimately derailed the negotiations, however for the purposes of the clarification the timeline was as follows:

(1) A draft agreement was made on behalf of both parties, subject to mutual consent to document wording.

(2) The respondent’s solicitors suggested an amendment to the terms of the agreement.

(3) The suggestion was construed by the appellant as a rejection of the agreement.

(4) The mediating solicitor construed from a telephone conversation, that the respondent was refusing to sign the agreement without knowledge of the appellant’s future plans.

(5) The respondent expressed that he perceived the appellant to be contractually obliged to purchase the shares.

(6) The respondent denied he had any interest in the future of the company or the appellant.

(7) The mediating solicitor imposed a time restriction for acceptance of the draft agreement.

(8) The mediating solicitor withdrew his services upon expiration of the time restriction.

(9) The respondent later agreed to sign the agreement, despite his earlier reservations.

In the first hearing, the judge found that the discussions within the first and last email were tantamount to a binding contract, and so awarded accordingly. However, at the Court of Appeal, a reexamination of the facts and the chronology of events, painted quite a different picture.

Here, it was held that while the contract itself was not subject to time penalties, the position adopted by the ‘mediating’ solicitor was one that implied how all terms of the bargain were now defined through his presence, therefore by the imposition of a threshold upon which to contract, the eventual acceptance by the respondent was both after the fact and thereby null in effect, thus it was for that reason (and perhaps unnecessary element of the negotiation), that the appeal was upheld and judgment awarded to the appellant, while holding that:

“[T]here is a distinction between a counter-offer or a refusal, which does put an end to an offer, and a request for further information which does not amount to a new offer but is to an investigation of the offering party’s position.”

Hasham v Zenab

Specific performance and cessation of contract on grounds of mistake, are both viable arguments for either continuation of contractual obligations, or the cessation of a transaction for reasons non-detrimental to both contractees; however, both approaches rely upon the honesty and accountability of at least one party, should the courts take a view to upholding either of them.

In this instance, a Gujarati widower entered into an agreement to convey a determinate plot of land for an agreed sum, yet immediately after signing the disposition she tore up the document and refused to continue with the transaction, on grounds that she had been misled as to (i) the size of the plot, and (ii) the identity of the individual to whom the purchaser was planning to sell it to.

During initial litigation in the Supreme Court of Kenya, her argument for the fraudulent misrepresentation was based upon her limited grasp of the English language; and so, she had elected a representative to be present with her at the time of signing; however, it was also argued that no mention had been given of the size of the plot, which in the first instance was alleged to be half an acre and not the two acres contained within the conveyance, a fact discovered only after the signing.

When cross-examined, the respondent was proven to have falsified the statement and so her witness was accused of perjury, whereas the appellant contested that during preliminary talks, the proposed plot was described as two acres and not the half-acre suggested.

The contract itself was signed in the presence of a third party; however, the respondent also relied upon the contention that at no point during an earlier meeting did anybody translate the contents of the contract, despite the appellant claiming that not only did he explain it, but that the respondent’s cousin had also clarified its contents to her.

It was likewise argued by the appellant that the respondent tore up the contract, not because of the plot variation, but upon the knowledge that the land was to be resold to an individual she disliked, however this was also proven to be untrue after lengthy cross-examination and questioning of oral evidence.

Upon summation, the trial judge awarded in favour of the appellant, despite reservations around the integrity of both parties, and so when presented to the Court of Appeal of East Africa, the Court took issue with the reliability of the appellant’s statements and proceeded to reexamine the facts, before reaching the same conclusion as the lower court.

Taken finally to the House of Lords, it was noted that vol. 2 of ‘Williams on Vendor and Purchaser’ clearly illustrated that:

“[A]s a rule, either party to a contract to sell land is entitled to sue in equity for specific performance of the agreement. This right is, in general, founded on a breach of the contract, but not in the same manner as the right to sue at law. The court has no jurisdiction to award damages at law except in case of a breach of the contract; while the equitable jurisdiction to order an agreement to be specifically performed is not limited to the cases in which at law damages could be recoverable.”

Which translated that when contracting parties hold a good account of themselves throughout their dealings, equity would provide sufficient weight as to instigate specific performance; yet on this occasion, neither party had been anywhere near as truthful as a court would rightfully expect; and so, on this principle it was impossible to uphold the appeal, nor enforce the equitable rights of the appellant, or those forwarded by the respondent; hence, the appeal was dismissed, while the House held that:

“In equity all that is required is to show circumstances which will justify the intervention by a court of equity.”

Bray v Ford

Profiting from a fiduciary position, while not expressly forbidden, is a feature that requires careful consideration by both trustees and beneficiaries, and so in this matter the billing of fees for legal services proved both offensive and damaging for the party accused.

In 1895, the Governor of the Yorkshire College took issue with the vice-chairman after discovering that he had for a period of fourteen years, been providing legal function as a solicitor whilst holding a position based upon a voluntary footing. Incensed at this opportunistic behaviour, the now appellant wrote a lengthy letter to the respondent, accusing him of breaching his fiduciary duty to the institution her served, while stressing that he had:

“[U]sed religious, educational and philanthropic schemes as a hypocritical cover for the purpose of serving his own ends.”

The respondent argued that the terms of the memorandum of association had provided him with rights to both charge and profit from his work, a contention that remained largely unproven at the point of litigation. In the first hearing, the judge underemphasised the importance of the accusation levelled, instead focussing on the libellous tone used in the letter, which at the time, was circulated amongst three hundred other college governors.

Having convinced the jury that the respondent was justified in his collection of payment for legal services, the judge again placed greater weight upon the damaging effects of the written statements, after which the jury returned a verdict in favour of the respondent, and with damages set at a lofty 600l.

Upon appeal, the appellant was left facing a similar outcome after the Court agreed that the libel charges remained as effective as they would have should the respondent have been proved wrong, thus prompting a final plea before the House of Lords.

Here, the roots of the matter were revisited, along with Order XXXIX r.6 of the Rules of the Supreme Court 1883, which explained how:

“[A] new trial shall not be granted on the ground of misdirection or of the improper admission or rejection of evidence,…unless in the opinion of the Court to which the application is made some substantial wrong or miscarriage has been thereby occasioned in the trial…”

It was thus uniformly agreed by the House that from the outset, the nature of the action had been grossly overlooked in favour of aspersions, and that the trial judge had clearly failed to acknowledge the gravity of a fiduciary breach, which if proven correct, went some way to justifying the claims made by the appellant at the start. It was for this reason that the House held that there had been a clear miscarriage of justice, and that in failing to recognise this, the Court of Appeal had conversely erred in judgment.

In light of these collective mishaps, the House duly reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision, directed a re-trial under the Supreme Court Rules, and ordered repayment of all courts costs and damages to the appellant.

Equitable Maxims

Within the discipline of equity there are a number of maxims relied upon when settling many common law matters.

The aim of this article is to present them in as exhaustive a manner as possible, while including notable cases to explain their application.

Equity follows the Law (Aequitas sequitur legem)

The nature of equity is one that supports rather than overrules the balance of justice, however it must also be stressed that where the moment calls, equity will go against those principles in pursuit of a fair outcome that common law fails to provide.

A suitable case example for this is Stack v Dowdon, in which an unmarried couple shared a home for over twenty years, while raising their children until the time came for separation. Upon parting, the father argued that as the two parties enjoyed joint legal title, beneficial interest was automatically deemed equal, unless robustly proven otherwise.

This sentiment was echoed in the above maxim and until this case had been presented, it remained common law that equal beneficial interest was assumed to mirror that of legal title; however, the evidence presented by the respondent was overwhelming to the point that for the first time, the percentages were divided heavily in favour of the mother, while this reexamination of beneficial assumption was instigated by Baroness Hale of Richmond, who urged:

“The issue as it has been framed before us is whether a conveyance into joint names indicates only that each party is intended to have some beneficial interest but says nothing about the nature and extent of that beneficial interest, or whether a conveyance into joint names establishes a prima facie case of joint and equal beneficial interests until the contrary is shown.”

Stack v Dowden

Where the equities are equal, the law will prevail

Frequently tied to property dealings, this maxim relates to two parties seeking title to a property without awareness of each others rights.

An example of this might be a beneficiary to an estate who is unaware that a third party has since acquired legal title by means of a purchase (as sometime happens when wills are not updated nor properly constructed).

The courts will view both potential owners as equal, however where the legal owner can prove ownership free of fraud, the latter will succeed. This position was underlined in Pilcher v Rawlins, where it was clarified by James LJ that:

“[S]uch a purchaser’s plea of a purchase for valuable consideration without notice is an absolute, unqualified, unanswerable defence, and an unanswerable plea to the jurisdiction of this court. Such a purchaser, when he has once put in a plea, may be interrogated and tested to any extent as to the valuable consideration which he given in order to show bona fide or male fides of his purchase, and also the presence of the absence of notice; but when once he has gone through that ordeal, and has satisfied the terms of the plea of purchase for valuable consideration without notice, then…this Court has no jurisdiction whatever to do anything more then allow him to depart in possession of that legal estate.”

Pilcher v Rawlins

Equity looks to the substance rather than the form

This is a fairly descriptive maxim serving to keep focus on legal proceedings in a way that holds the principle of fairness above that of policy or written codes of conduct.

This is not to say that where statute dictates a course of action, equity will seek to ignore that; in fact under those terms, the black letter of legislation will always win the day.

Instead, equity looks at the form of the subject matter, rather than allowing the intention to dissolve in favour of caveats that work against common law and obstruct a proper outcome.

This was demonstrated through the words of Lord Romily Mr in Parkin v Thorold, who remarked that an agreement between a vendor and purchaser did not rest upon the limitations of time; and that when charges against the vendor for specific performance altered the essence of the contract, it was equity that referred the parties to the form of the arrangement:

“[T]ime was originally not of essence of the contract…although express notice will make time of the essence of the contract, where a reasonable time is specified…the notice of the 21st October did not specify a reasonable time for this purpose.”

Parkin v Thorold

Equity will not permit statute to be used as a cloak for fraud

While limited in scope, this maxim can be appreciated within property law matters, as it is a legal requirement under section 53(1)(b) of the Law of Property Act 1924 that any contracts for sale or occupancy must be written.

An example of this was in Bannister v Bannister, where the owner of a property conveyed a party rent free occupancy of the home for life before they tried to evict them; however, it was argued by the defendant that an oral contract existed, which defeated the act of statute when the respondent went back on their promise.

Equity imputes an intention to fulfil an obligation

Relating to ambition and intention, the aim here is to hold to account the statements or actions by a party that are later required to be enforced, regardless of any reasonable changes in circumstance and when the court finds that no fulfilment has occurred, the obligation to do so will be levied through equity.

An example of this is Lechmere v Lady Lechmere, in which a Lord bound himself to purchase land for an agreed sum, that would then pass through death to his wife. Upon his passing, it was discovered that he had failed to uphold his requirement during the lifetime of their marriage by purchasing other lands that now fell within the residue of his estate and required a successor in title other than his son.

Through the application of this maxim, the court allowed the transfer to his wife for the amount agreed, whereupon his obligations were deemed satisfied, as was expressed within the judgment, which read:

“[W]herever a thing is to be done either upon a condition, or within a time certain, yet if a recompence can be made which agrees in substance, though perhaps not in every formal circumstance, such a recompence shall be good, and shall go in satisfaction of the thing covenanted to be done.”

Lechmere v Lady Lechmere

Equity regards as done that which ought to be done

There are times in law where the misdeeds of others wind up obscuring the natural order of events, hence this equitable maxim is crucial to redressing the imbalance and putting matters where equity can reign.

A fitting case example is Attorney-General for Hong Kong v Reid, where a senior crown prosecutor received bribes to obstruct the course of justice, while employed in a manner that bestowed fiduciary duties.

When it was discovered that those illegal payments had been invested in a number of properties, it was agreed that those homes were held on trust by the appellant for the benefit of the Crown; and while the rules of equity prevent a debtor to the injured party being a trustee for the monies received, the Court of Appeal allowed that conflict to stand in order for the outcome to find form and for natural remedy to occur. This decision was supported by Lord Templeman, who commented:

“It is unconscionable for a fiduciary to obtain and retain a benefit from a breach of duty. The provider of a bribe cannot recover it because he committed a criminal offence when he paid the bribe. The false fiduciary who received the bribe in breach of duty must pay and account for the bribe to the person to whom that duty was owed.”

Attorney-General for Hong Kong v Reid

Equity acts in personam

Because some matters involve effects belonging to individuals that may have since moved abroad, the principle that equity acts against the person provides domestic courts with an ability to extend their reach without interruption of foreign laws.

This may come into play when a property owner or business person has entered into a contract binding them within the United Kingdom, but whose absence may permit avoidance of liability for remedy.

There are of course limitations to this maxim, and where the laws of the country occupied prevent such imposition, the party accused may yet evade its grasp. This was explained by Lord Cottenham in ex parte Pollard, when he outlined:

“[C]ontracts respecting lands in countries not within the jurisdiction of these courts…can only be enforced by proceedings in personam which courts of equity are constantly in the habit of doing; not thereby in any respect interfering with the lex loci res sitae.”

ex parte Pollard

Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy (ubi jus ibi remediam)

Much like the founding principle of equity itself, there are times when common law can inadvertently create unjust reward for those who deserve no such fortune; and so, when defective legal rulings are left wanting, the maxim ‘no misdeed should go unpunished’ can be applied to restore equality, while in many respects mirroring the maxim ‘equity regards as done that which ought to be done’.

An example of this is Ashby v White, in which a member of the public community was denied the right to vote by local policemen, who wrongly acted on the damning advice of parish members, claiming he was unfit to cast opinion; yet when taken to court, the claimant was awarded damages, before the ruling was later overturned in favour of the policemen.

This compelled the man to issue a writ of error against Parliament on grounds that such a verdict allowed any member of a local authority to choose who could vote, when such powers were conferred upon central government.

When it was appreciated that a legal process had allowed this kind of miscarriage, the initial judgment was upheld and damages paid, while the court expressed that:

“[A]s all parliamentary causes are to be determined in parliament, it was conceived that this matter was properly determinable in the House of Commons only; and that the courts of Westminster-Hall not being authorized by any act of parliament, had no cognisance of it.”

Ashby v White

He who seeks equity must do equity

‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’, might be another phrase better known to some, and so again equity commands the same from those seeking remedy.

It is after all, the bedrock of law that fairness and equability must at all times remain in view should the rule of law justify its own existence; so when one party brings action against another, it must act accordingly should it wish those accused to do the same.

An excellent example of this is Chappell v Times Newspapers, where Megarry J explained:

“If the plaintiff asks for an injunction to restrain a breach of contract to which he is a party, and he is seeking to uphold that contract in all its parts, he is, in relation to that contract, ready to do equity. If on the other hand he seeks the injunction but in the same breath is constrained to say that he is ready and willing himself to commit grave breaches of the contract…then it seems to me that the plaintiff cannot very well contend that in relation to that contract he is ready to do equity.”

Chappell v Times Newspapers

He who comes to equity must come with clean hands

Once again we look to integrity and depth of character when assessing claims of inequitable conduct, except those claiming must themselves prove their argument does not rest upon misdeeds of their own within the parameters of the matter.

An example of this is Barrett v Barrett, where two brothers worked together to avoid the loss of a property during business liquidation.

When the party losing their business asked the other to purchase the home (held by the assigned trustee) before refurbishing it and selling it for a substantial profit, the buyer later refused to pass the sale proceeds back to his sibling.

The brother retaliated by taking action against him, but unfortunately during the hearing it emerged that the former owner acted in collusion in order to avoid surrendering the property as payment to his creditors, therefore his request for equitable remedy was built upon deception and avoidance of duties owed.

This lapse of moral fibre was explained by Richards J, who noted:

“He has in effect pleaded the unlawful purpose in paragraph 15(1)(a) of his particulars of claim : the purpose of purchasing the property in the name of John was “to avoid its being repossessed by the Trustee in Bankruptcy”. Without that purpose, the agreement or arrangement has no rational explanation. Thomas needs to allege and prove it in order to establish the agreement, but in doing so he relies on his own illegal purpose and thereby renders his interest unenforceable.”

Barrett v Barrett

Delay defeats equity

Fettered through the confines of the Limitation Act 1980 and the estoppel doctrine of laches, this maxim underlines that when seeking legal remedy, it is imperative that the claimant moves to argue with haste, as the passage of time will ultimately work against any reasons to the contrary.

That aside, there are particular beneficiary rights exempt from delay, which include breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence or recession of contract; while s.36 of the 1980 Act refuses to prevent claims on grounds of acquiescence, as this in itself can stand as evidence of that restraint.

An excellent case for the examination of this maxim is Erlanger v New Sombrero Phosphate Co, in which Lord Jackson cited the comments in Lindsay Petroleum Co v Hurd:

“The doctrine of laches in courts of equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where, by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted, in either of these cases lapse of time and delay are most material. But in every case if an argument against relief which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute of limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable. Two circumstances always important in such cases are the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy.”

Erlanger v New Sombrero Phosphate Co.

Equity will not allow a trust to fail for want of a trustee

As clearly explained within the title, this maxim states that in the event that a trust has been constructed in the absence of a trustee, or that through time those appointed have since passed, the courts will take the necessary steps to ensure the trust is honoured and a suitable trustee will stand in receipt.

This power is conferred to the courts under the Trustee Act 1925 and requires no reliance upon common law to succeed.

Equality is equity (aequalitus est quasi equitas)

Often applied to manage the distribution of assets between beneficiaries, this maxim will allow the court to distribute equal shares between any number of parties where no prior agreement has been found.

While used primarily with trusts, this is also found in divorce proceedings, where evidence aside, the husband and wife cannot fully establish the exact proportions of the monies remaining after the fact.

An example of this is Burrough v Philcox where Lord Chancellor Cottenham remarked:

“I think myself justified in giving effect to the intention, which appears to me to be sufficiently apparent upon the will, of giving the property to the nephews and nieces, and their children, subject to the selection and distribution of the survivor of the son and daughter; and that they all constitute the class to take all the property as to which no such selection and distribution has been made.”

Burrough v Philcox

Equity will not assist a volunteer

In its most simplest of forms, this maxim provides that equity will not, by virtue of their proximity, assist a party indirectly involved in a matter of grant, whether by marriage or by trust (as is most often applied).

In the latter instance, a lack of consideration for the benefits of such a trust automatically renders the claimant void of support when seeking remedy, and further renders them incapable of instructing a trustee to the same end.

A volunteer can however, sue for breach of duty or agreement where they are so associated, and can attain that those in trust are there for the benefit of the volunteer and hold only for their needs (where applicable).

Equity will not perfect an imperfect gift

The willingness to give freely of something must extend beyond words and take effect through action, or equity cannot enforce the gesture within the courts.

This would apply to anything under common law, but is typically found in property and trust matters where a party alleged to have been conferred that of a physical form are left wanting, and so in search of remedy through the principle above.

An excellent case example for this denial is Curtis v Pulbrook, in which a company director made efforts to pass on a number of shares to his daughter while in the process of liquidation, but did so without formalising the transfer within the requirements required under company law; hence when concluding the error it was remarked by Justice Briggs that:

“[W]ithout his assistance in making available the duly completed stock transfer forms, neither his wife nor his daughter could perfect the intended gifts without further assistance from Mr. Pulbrook…it follows that there was not an effective gift of Mr Pulbrook’s beneficial interest either in the 14 or in the 300 shares which he attempted to give respectively to his daughter and to his wife so that, in the result, there is nothing to prevent the charging order being made final in relation to all of them.”

Curtis v Pulbrook