Pankhania v The London Borough of Hackney: ChD 2002

A brochure listing properties to be sold at auction decribed the property as being subject to a terminable licence. In fact it was a secure tenancy. The question arose as to whether a misrepresentation of law could found a cause of action.
Held: ‘I have concluded that the ‘misrepresentation of law’ rule has not survived the decision in Klienwort Benson Ltd. Its historical origin is as an off-shoot of the ‘mistake of law’ rule, created by analogy with it, and the two are logically inter-dependent. Both are grounded in the maxim ‘ignorantia juris non excusat’, a tag whose dubious utility would have been enhanced, had it gone on to explain who was not excused and from what. As it stands, it means no more than that ignorance of the general law does not excuse anyone from compliance with it, a proposition with which criminal lawyers are familiar. In translation, it has become distorted and amplified meaning, in such expressions as ‘everyone’ is taken to know the Law’, from which follow two further propositions (underpinning the ‘mistake of law’ and ‘misrepresentation of law’ rules respectively) (i) ‘ as you are taken to know the law, it is your fault if you are mistaken as to it, even if I have misrepresented it to you, and because of that you should have no relief’. Those two propositions bear little relation to, and do not follow logically from, the maxim ‘ignorantia juris non excusat’, but save for its Latin roots, no basis for the ‘misrepresentation of law’ rule is to be found, as Lane L.J. remarked in Andre. The distinction between fact and law in the context of relief from misrepresentation has no more underlying principle to it than it does in the context of relief from mistake. Indeed, when the principles of mistake and misrepresentation are set side by side, there is a stronger case for granting relief against a party who has induced a mistaken belief as to law in another, than against one who has merely made the same mistake himself. The rules of the common law should, so far as possible, be congruent with one another, and based on coherent principle. The survival of the ‘misrepresentation of law’ rule following the demise of the ‘mistake of law’ rule would be more than a quixotic anachronism. Its demise rids this area of the law of a series of distinctions, such as the ‘private rights’ exception, whose principal function has been to distinguish the ‘mistake of law’ rule, and confine it to a very narrow compass, albeit not to extinguish it completely.’


Rex Tedd QC


[2002] EWHC 2441 (Ch)


England and Wales


AppliedKleinwort Benson Ltd v Lincoln City Council etc HL 29-Jul-1998
Right of Recovery of Money Paid under Mistake
Kleinwort Benson had made payments to a local authority under swap agreements which were thought to be legally enforceable when made. Subsequently, a decision of the House of Lords, (Hazell v. Hammersmith and Fulham) established that such swap . .
CitedStreet v Mountford HL 6-Mar-1985
When a licence is really a tenancy
The document signed by the occupier stated that she understood that she had been given a licence, and that she understood that she had not been granted a tenancy protected under the Rent Acts. Exclusive occupation was in fact granted.
Held: . .

Cited by:

CitedMargaret Brennan v Bolt Burdon, London Borough of Islington, Leigh Day and Co QBD 30-Oct-2003
The claimant had sought relief for the injury to her health suffered by condition of her flat. The legal advisers had settled the matter, thinking that the claim had not been timeously served. The defendant appealed an order that the compromise was . .
CitedBrennan v Bolt Burdon and Others, London Borough of Islington, Leigh Day and Co CA 29-Jul-2004
The claimant sought damages for injury alleged to have been suffered as tenant of a house after being subjected to carbon monoxide poisoning, and also from her former solicitors for their delay in her claim. The effective question was whether the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Equity, Contract

Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.187291