Undue Influence

Topics: Common law, Equity, Contract Pages: 6 (2030 words) Published: November 30, 2012
As James Munby firmly stated, “it is impossible to define, and difficult even to describe, at what point at which the influence becomes, in the eye of law, undue.” The doctrine of undue influence has been agreed upon as “the ground of relief developed by the courts of equity as a court of conscience.” It is an ordinary behaviour to influence individuals and persuade them to enter into transactions. However, the aim is to ensure that the influence exercised is not abused. On the grounds of these concepts, it is impossible to set a flawless higher definitive criterion to be directly applied in every case to recognize whether undue influence had been exercised or not. Attempting to do that has been problematic. Firstly, courts have not been able to always distinguish between undue influence and unconscionability dealing. Secondly, titles categorizing undue influence as either “claimant-sided” or “defendant-sided” have not been successful in presenting undue influence as an independent doctrine. Thirdly, subdividing undue influence into categories and setting rules under them increased the possibility of misconceptions arising. Since undue influence is an equitable doctrine, the criteria set to define it ought to only provide a framework for judges to exercise their jurisdiction. Hence, it allows them to assess cases flexibly based on the particulate facts provided rather than looking at undue influence as a common law doctrine and applying the rules set strictly. A main difficulty in attempting to set a comprehensive definitive description of undue influence is its numerous resemblances with the unconscionability notion. The usage of the word “unconscionable” in describing undue influence has established an opinion that it is based on the Unconscionability Bargains doctrine. Furthermore, misconception can be recognized in the case Lloyds Bank Plc v Lucken, where Mr. Lucken had pressured Mrs. Lucken to obtain a loan using her house’s security. Mrs. Lucken ultimately agreed to Mr. Lucken’s request, and the money was lent to one of Mr. Lucken's eventually failing businesses. She later claimed that the charge was impeachable because Mr. Lucken had exercised undue influence upon her. The Court of Appeal refused relief disputing that the pressure placed was not “unconscionable.” Tending to define undue influence in an excessive precise manner using the word “unconscionable” has rather caused confusion and difficulty in terms of separating it from unconscionability dealing. Therefore, even if the two doctrines share similarities, they should still be distinguished. Undue Influence is concerned with “the quality of the consent or assent of the weaker party,” while unconscionable dealing is concerned with “the conduct of the stronger party in attempting to enforce, or retain the benefit of, a dealing with a person under a special disability in circumstances where it is not consistent with equity.” Legal certainty requires that they be distinct; hence there should not be an attempt to limit undue influence under a precise definition unless it would be used to represent and clarify that it is an independent doctrine. There has been an ongoing debate on whether undue influence is categorized as a “claimant-oriented” or “defendant-oriented” doctrine. The defendant approach suggests that it is “illegitimate” or “unconscionable.” As Lord Hoffman stated in R v Attorney-General for England and Wales, “undue influence has concentrated in particular upon the unfair exploitation by one party of a relationship which gives him ascendancy or intense over the other.” Including “unacceptable means” and “unfair exploitation” within the definition makes it powerfully appear as defendant focused. Furthermore, claimant-sided orientation defines the influence as being “overbearing” and “too high.” It originally aimed to differentiate unconscionability from undue influence, but rather obliquely connected it to another doctrine. It was...
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