The fundamental principle that equity is concerned to prevent unconscionable conduct permeates all the elements of the doctrine of estoppel. In the light of the more recent cases, the principle ‘requires a very much broader approach which is directed rather at ascertaining whether, in particular individual circumstances, it would be unconscionable for a party to be permitted to deny that which, knowingly or unknowingly, he has allowed or encouraged another to assume to his detriment than to enquiring whether the circumstances can be fitted within the confines of some preconceived formula serving as a universal yardstick of unconscionable behaviour.’
A party who seeks to set up an estoppel, whether a proprietary estoppel, estoppel by acquiescence or estoppel by encouragement, must establish that it would be unconscionable for the other party to be permitted to deny what he has allowed or encouraged the first party to assume to his detriment: ‘If A under an expectation created or encouraged by B that A shall have a certain interest in land thereafter, on the faith of such expectation and with B’s knowledge, and without objection by B, acts to his detriment in connection with such land, a Court of equity will compel B to give effect to such expectation’.
Estoppel is a principle of broad even protean application: ‘Furthermore the more recent cases indicate, in my judgment, that the application of the Ramsden v. Dyson LR 1 HL 129 principle – whether you call it proprietary estoppel by acquiescence or estoppel by encouragement is really immaterial – requires a very much broader approach which is directed rather at ascertaining whether, in particular individual circumstances, it would be unconscionable for a party to deny that which, knowingly or unknowingly, he has allowed or encouraged another to assume to his detriment than to inquiring whether the circumstances can be fitted within the confines of some preconceived formula serving as a universal yardstick for every form of unconscionable behaviour.’
The court considered the situations in which an estoppel may arise: ‘Furthermore the more recent cases indicate, in my judgment, that the application of the Ramsden v Dyson L.R. 1 H.L. 129 principle – whether you call it proprietary estoppel, estoppel by acquiescence or estoppel by encouragement is really immaterial – requires a very much broader approach which is directed rather at ascertaining whether, in particular individual circumstances, it would be unconscionable for a party to be permitted to deny that which, knowingly, or unknowingly, he has allowed or encouraged another to assume to his detriment than to inquiring whether the circumstances can be fitted within the confines of some preconceived formula serving as a universal yardstick for every form of unconscionable behaviour.’ and ‘The inquiry which I have to make therefore, as it seems to me, is simply whether, in all the circumstances of this case, it was unconscionable for the defendants to seek to take advantage of the mistake which, at the material time, everybody shared, and, in approaching that, I must consider the cases of the two plaintiffs separately because it may be that quite different considerations apply to each.’
 QB 133,  2 WLR 576,  1 All ER 897,  251 EG 159,  EWHC Ch 1
England and Wales
Cited – Ramsden v Dyson HL 1866
The Vice-Chancellor had held that two tenants of Sir John Ramsden, the owner of a large estate near Huddersfield, were entitled to long leases of plots on the estate. They ostensibly held the plots as tenants at will only, but they had spent their . .
Explained – Willmott v Barber ChD 19-Jun-1880
In 1869 Barber granted a 99-year lease of three acres of land in east London, subject to a covenant against assignment or sub-letting without consent. In 1874, in breach of covenant, he sub-let one acre on an annual tenancy to Willmott (who owned a . .
Cited – Jennings v Rice, Wilson, Marsh, Norris, Norris, and Reed CA 22-Feb-2002
The claimant asserted a proprietary estoppel against the respondents. He had worked for the deceased over many years, for little payment, and doing more and more for her. Though he still worked full time at first, he came to spend nights at the . .
Cited – In re Basham dec’d; Basham v Basham 1986
The claimant and her husband had helped her mother and her stepfather throughout the claimant’s adult life. She received no remuneration but understood that she would inherit her stepfather’s property when he died. After her mother’s death and until . .
Cited – Parker v Parker ChD 24-Jul-2003
Lord Macclesfield claimed a right to occupy a castle. The owners claimed that he had only a mere tenancy at will. The exact rooms in the castle which had been occupied had varied over time.
Held: The applicant was entitled to reasonable . .
Cited – Dun and Bradstreet Software Services (England) Ltd; Dun and Bradstreet Software Services Ltd v Provident Mutual Life Assurance Association and General Accident Linked Life Assurance CA 9-Jun-1997
Break clauses had been exercised on behalf of the plaintiffs. The defendant landlords appealed a decision upholding the notices. A penalty rent had been sought.
Held: There had been no sufficient agency established to validate the notice. The . .
Cited – Gonthier and Another v Orange Contract Scaffolding Ltd CA 25-Jun-2003
The question of a proprietary estoppel as between landlord and tenant arose. An agreement had been reached subject to contract for the grant of a lease, with an option to purchase. The tenant was allowed into possession before the documentation was . .
Cited – King v Jackson (T/a Jackson Flower Company) CA 16-Jul-1997
The defendant appealed an award of pounds 11,000 damages for unlawful eviction of his tenant. The tenant had found herself unable to pay the rent and had given notice to quit. She was then told to leave immediately. The judge awarded statutory . .
Cited – Geoffrey Allan Chadwick, Sylvia Joyce Chadwick, Edward James Chadwick v Abbotswood Properties Ltd, Gordon Leonard Hauser, Pamela Ann Hauser, Rectory Pump Ltd ChD 18-May-2004
Between to new houses was a steep bank. Who owned it? Before the transfer there had been different plans and much correspondence.
Held: Where there was doubt as to the extent of land transferred, the court could look to the physical boundaries . .
Cited – Actionstrength Limited v International Glass Engineering In Gl En SpA and others HL 3-Apr-2003
Actionstrength agreed with Inglen to provide construction staff to build a factory for St-Gobain. Inglen failed to pay. Actionstrength claimed against for the amount due. Inglen went into liquidation. The claim was now against St-Gobain. The claim . .
Restated – Hodgens v Beckingham CA 19-Feb-2003
The defendant appealed a finding of infringement in a music copyright work, ‘Young at Heart’, based on a claim of joint authorship. The claimant had delayed his claim for many years, but now sought only rights to future royalties.
Held: The . .
Cited – Fisher v Brooker and Another ChD 20-Dec-2006
The claimant said that he had contributed to the copyright in the song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ but had been denied royalties. He had played the organ and particularly the organ solo which had contrbuted significantly to the fame of the record.
Approved – Blue Haven Enterprises Ltd v Tully and Another PC 21-Feb-2006
(Jamaica ) . .
Cited – Barrett v Universal-Island Records Ltd and others ChD 15-May-2006
The claimant was entitled to share in the copyright royalties of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and claimed payment from the defendants. The defendants said that the matters had already been settled and that the claim was an abuse of process, and also . .
Cited – A and M Records Ltd v VCI 1995
Sir Mervyn Davies said: ‘However that may be, I am satisfied that Mr Ross was at all material times quite unaware of any activities of the plaintiffs being activities of a kind that he as owner of the copyright in the sound recordings could object . .
Cited – Johnson v Gore Wood and Co HL 14-Dec-2000
Shareholder May Sue for Additional Personal Losses
A company brought a claim of negligence against its solicitors, and, after that claim was settled, the company’s owner brought a separate claim in respect of the same subject-matter.
Held: It need not be an abuse of the court for a shareholder . .
Cited – Scottish and Newcastle Plc v Lancashire Mortgage Corporation Ltd CA 5-Jul-2007
The parties each had a charge over a property, and now disputed which had priority. The brewery appealed an order for rectification of the registers to reverse priority on the basis of an estoppel. The charge in their favour had been registered . .
Approved – Gillett v Holt and Another CA 23-Mar-2000
Repeated Assurances Created Equitable Estoppel
Repeated assurances, given over years, that the claimant would acquire an interest in property on the death of the person giving the re-assurance, and upon which the claimant relied to his detriment, could found a claim of equitable estoppel. The . .
Approved – Brooker and Another v Fisher CA 4-Apr-2008
The claimant had asserted a joint authorship of the song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ written in the sixties. The defendant appealed saying that the claim had been brought too late, and that the finding ignored practice in the music industry. The . .
Cited – London Borough of Bexley v Maison Maurice Ltd ChD 15-Dec-2006
The council had taken land by compulsory purchase in order to construct a dual carriageway. It then claimed that it had left undedicated a strip .5 metre wide as a ransom strip to prevent the defendant restoring access to the road.
Held: The . .
Cited – Yeoman’s Row Management Ltd and Another v Cobbe HL 30-Jul-2008
The parties agreed in principle for the sale of land with potential development value. Considerable sums were spent, and permission achieved, but the owner then sought to renegotiate the deal.
Held: The appeal succeeded in part. The finding . .
Cited – SQ v RQ and Another FD 31-Jul-2008
The home in which the family had lived was held in the name of a brother. Each party claimed that it was held in trust for them. Chancery proceedings had been consolidated into these ancillary relief applications. The home had been in the husband’s . .
Cited – St Pancras and Humanist Housing Association Ltd v Leonard CA 17-Dec-2008
The claimant sought possession of a garage. The defendant claimed adverse possession.
Held: The defendant’s appeal against an order for possession failed. The defendant had attended a meeting where his behaviour had allowed other parties to . .
Cited – Thorner v Major and others CA 2-Jul-2008
The deceased had written a will, revoked it but then not made another. The claimant had worked for the deceased understanding that property would be left to him, and now claimed that the estate property was held under a trust for him.
Held: . .
Cited – Fisher v Brooker and Others HL 30-Jul-2009
The claimant sought a share in the royalties from the song ‘A whiter shade of pale’ but had delayed his claim for 38 years. He had contributed the organ solo which had contributed significantly to the song’s success. He now sought a share of future . .
Endorsed – Habib Bank Ltd v Habib Bank AG Zurich CA 1981
A combination of defences based on delay was pleaded in a passing off action objecting to the use of a name which the defendants had been using without objection for many years. A permanent injunction was claimed.
Held: Oliver LJ said as to . .
Cited – Budejovicky Budvar Narodni Podnik v Anheuser-Busch Inc CA 20-Oct-2009
The parties had long disputed the use of the trade marks ‘Bud’ and ‘Budweiser’ for their beers. The claimant now said that the defendants had made an abusive registration under the 1994 Act, by requesting a declaration that the registration by the . .
Cited – Gill v Woodall and Others ChD 5-Oct-2009
The claimant challenged her late mother’s will which had left the entire estate to a charity. She asserted lack of knowledge and approval and coercion, and also an estoppel. The will included a note explaining that no gift had been made because she . .
Cited – Brightlingsea Haven Ltd and Another v Morris and others QBD 30-Oct-2008
The caravan park operated under planning consents requiring the caravans to be occupied only during certain months. The defendants had bought their mobile homes from the claimants to occupy full time, and said that the claimants knew of this. The . .
Cited – Babbage v North Norfolk District Council CA 1990
The court considered the extent of its ability to insert conditions into caravan site agreements under the 1960 Act. The site licence contained two relevant conditions. One required that no caravan should be occupied between November 1 and March 19. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.188170