Equity Maxims

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Equity Maxims
1. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands
* D&C Builders v Rees – Lord Denning. A small building firm did some work on the house of a couple named Rees. The bill came to £732, of which the Rees had already paid £250. When the builders asked for the balance of £482, the Rees announced that the work was defective and they were only prepared to pay £300. As the builders were in serious financial difficulties, they reluctantly accepted the £300 “ in completion of the account ”. The decision to accept the money would not normally be binding in contract law, and afterwards the builders sued the Rees for the outstanding amount. The Rees claimed that the court should apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel, which can make promises binding when they would normally not be. However, Lord Denning refused to apply the doctrine, on the grounds that the Rees had taken unfair advantage of the builders’ financial difficulties, and therefore had not come with “clean hands”. 2. Where the equities are equal, the first in time shall prevail * This maxim operates where there are two or more competing equitable interests; when two equities are equal the original interest will succeed. 3. He who seeks equity must do equity

* Though the previous maxim indicates equity’s willingness to intervene where the common law will not, it should not be thought that equity will automatically intervene whenever a certain situation arises. In general, one can say that wherever certain facts are found and a common law right or interest has been established, common law remedies will be available whether that produces a fair result or not. By contrast, equitable remedies are discretionary and the court will not grant them if it feels that the plaintiff is unworthy, notwithstanding that prima facie he has established and equitable right or interest. The maxim that he who seeks equity must do equity together with the next maxims, concerning delay, are aspects...
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