Maxims of Equity. A maxim is a general principle or rule describing a standard or conduct in any given society. They are usually encapsulated in well known sayings. Equitable maxims as legal maxims have formed an important part in the development of equitable rules.
Common Law Maxims – Maxims of Equity
- Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy: a better understanding of this maxim is seen in the three equitable jurisdictions, that is exclusive, concurrent and auxiliary jurisdictions. This maxim means that in circumstances where the common law has failed to recognize a right or provided no remedy for a wrong, equity will not stand by and allow the aggrieved party to go without a remedy.
Under original jurisdiction equity conceived the right of the beneficiary under Trust. For the concurrent jurisdiction, it invented specific performance for breach of contract as the only remedy in Common law under this head was the award of damages. Similarly, where damages would be insufficient remedy for a tort, equity granted an injunction to restrain further wrong on the aggrieved party. Under auxiliary jurisdiction, equity invented order of discovery of documents and appointment of receivers.
Limits to the Maxim: there are some laws which cannot be remedied either under the common law or under equity for example, unfair trade competition which does not fall within the definition of any tort cannot be remedied either at law or in equity. Again, there are instances where damages would not be adequate and yet specific performance cannot be granted for example, in contracts for personal services and contracts requiring the constant supervision of the court. The application of this maxim is therefore limited to what is realistic and practical for the court.
2. Equity follows the law: Equity realizes that it is insufficient and therefore in its development, it has built upon pre-existing rules under the common law. Equity follows the law because not all common law rules resulted to injustice but where they did, equity departed from them for example in part performance, secrete trusts and in concealed fraud.
3. Delay defeats equity: Where a person delays in bringing his action, equity will not come to his aid. Such delay is known as “laches”. This does not apply to cases governed by statute of limitation. While lache’s basically is delay in timing acquisance smacks of fraud that is where one delays with fraudulent intention.
4. He who seeks equity must do equity: the basis of this maxim is that where one seeks an equitable relief, he must be ready to deal fairly and in good faith with the other party. Expression of this maxim can be found:
- Illegal loans
- Notice to redeem
- Doctrine of election
- Consolidation of mortgages
5. He who comes to equity must come with a clean hands: This maxim is to the effect that if one seeks equitable remedy, then his past dealings with the other party must be fair and just.
It deals with the parties’ conduct in the past, while the earlier maxim deals with the future conduct. For example, a tenant whose lease has been forfeited for non-payment of rent cannot get equitable relief against forfeiture if he has been using the place for immoral purposes for example, using it as a brothel.
6. Equality is Equity: Equity does not like joint tenancy so in some instances where joint tenancy is presumed equity has changed it to tenancy in common. This is under presumption of tenancy in common. There are other instances where there is severance of joint tenancy or where there is no known method of division. In all these instances, equity has taken the stance of tenancy in common. This maxim finds ample expression in :
- Doctrine of satisfaction
- Equal division by court
- Presumption of tenancy in common
- Severance of joint tenancy
7. Equity looks to the intent rather than the form: In common law, presenting transactions in the correct form or procedure matters a lot. Failure to do so rendered the transaction invalid but equity is more interested in the intention of the parties rather than there form of the transaction. This is made evident in time clauses, covenants, mortgage, deeds, equitable assignments, penalties, and forfeiture.
8. Equity looks on that as done which ought to be done: This can be explained using two examples:
- That an agreement for a lease is as good as the lease
- Where there is a duty on a trustee to convert a trust property, equity will regard that property in its converted form, for example, sell land and convert to money, equity will regard that land from the time the duty to sell arose in its converted form, that is, as money.
9. Equity imputes an intention to fulfill an obligation: Where a person has a duty to fulfill an obligation and he performs an act which could be taken as fulfilling the obligation, equity will favorably regard his act as in fulfillment of the obligation. This is the basis for doctrine of performance and satisfaction.
10. Equity acts in Personam: The decrees of the court of chancery were always directed towards the erring person, not his property. Under the common law where a person fails to pay for damages in obedience to a court judgment a writ of fifa will be levied against his property and the debtor’s property will be sold to settle the judgment debt. But equity will only seize the person, commit him to prison until he is able to pay the damages. In effect, equity always went against the erring person and nothing else although the position has changed now.
11. Where there are equal equities, the law shall prevail: Where there are two competing interests in a property where one is legal and the other equitable. Where both claims are fair, and meritorious, preference will be given to the legal interest.
12. Where equities are equal, the first in time prevails: In this case the competing interests are both equitable and so the first in time prevails.
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