Equity: Equitable Maxims

Equitable Maxims

Equitable maxims guide judges in the exercise of discretionary powers and the development of the law of equity. None of them are applied absolutely.

Equity Will not Suffer Wrong Without a Remedy

Equity provides a remedy against ‘unconscionable’ reliance on the common law.

Equity Follows the Law

Equity supplements the common law, it does not supplant it. It will generally only go somewhat further than what the common law allows.

Equity Looks to Intent, not Form

Equity will not permit a person to rely on the form of the law where this would be unconscionable.

Equity will not allow a Statute to be Used as an Instrument of Fraud

Equity will not permit statutory requirements to be used unconscionably, unless this would undermine its central policy: Shah v Shah [2001] 3 WLR 31.

Those Who Come to Equity Must Come with Clean Hands

When seeking discretionary relief, the claimant must not have acted unconscionably: Lee v Haley (1869) LR 5 Ch App 155.

Those Who Come to Equity Must do Equity

If given discretionary relief, the claimant must then do what is fair. For example, if a contract is rescinded, they must allow the seller to retrieve the goods.

Equity Sees as Done that which ought to be Done

If a person has a specifically enforceable common law obligation, it will be treated as done in equity. For example, if A is obliged to grant B a legal lease, B will be treated as already having an equitable lease.

Equity Imputes an Intention to Fulfil an Obligation

If a person takes an action which might be seen as either fulfilling or breaching an obligation, equity will interpret it as fulfilling that obligation. For example, a trustee who mixes trust money with his own money is assumed not to have spent the trust money if he makes a payment from that account.

When Equities are Equal, the First in Time Prevails

An equitable owner takes their rights subject to all rights that came before it, whether they know of that right or not. However, it was suggested in Taylor v Russel (1890) 1 Ch 8 that ‘gross’ negligence by the earlier rights-holder allows the court to grant priority to the later right by making the rights ‘unequal’.

Equity will not Assist a Volunteer

Equity will not normally assist a person who has not provided consideration. A sub-maxim of this is that ‘equity will not perfect an imperfect gift’.

Equality is Equity

Where there are multiple equitable shares in a property, equity will presume the shares are equal unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Equity Aids the Vigilant, not the Indolent

Equity will not generally grant relief if the hardship is the claimant’s own fault – particularly if it is the result of unreasonable delay.