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History of Equity Law

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Law
Wordcount: 1352 words Published: 21st Dec 2020

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With reference to relevant case law and legislation, examine the importance of equity as a modern source of law in light of its historical development.

From the start of the Norman conquest, there developed an essential branch of law called equity, in general, it refers to fairness and justice. The development of Equity as a source of law was critical; it was applied to situations where the common law did not produce an adequate result. There were gaps in the Common law, an outdated writ system, and it was difficult for citizens to obtain justice for matters that required more than economical justice. With the development of equity also came conflict among Common lawyers, because the precedents of past cases were not followed, and Common lawyers argued that it made Common law arbitrary, and unpredictable. Equity would require law reform to solve the tensions between Judges and the Lord Chancellors of that time. The breakthrough of the Judiciary Acts 1975 codified Equity as a part of the law, this simplified the process to access justice from any court in England. In light of its historical development, Equity has proven to be an essential modern source of law.

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In 1066 William the Conqueror conquered England, he had to create a government, and a justice system to keep order and power with his new subjects. It was a time where Williams and his most trusted advisors traveled across the land delivering judgments. Curia Regis (King’s Court) from this court came to the development of the common law. However, as straightforward as this law may have seemed at the time, there were flaws with the Common law which led to the development of equity. A court was to follow precedent even If the judge disagreed, the writ system was flawed and was limited, and the only remedy offered was damages. This system caused people to petition to the king for cases that did not require damages or compensation. During the fifteenth century, the king appointed the Lord Chancellor to handle these petitions, this was the emergence of the Court of Chancery. This court was set up to hear cases where the common law courts could not provide a remedy. What was seen as a solution soon turned to conflict with the Common law judges.

In the sixteenth century, The Earl of Oxford’s case [1615] came to court.

King James I, stepped in to provide a solution to this conflict he quoted ‘where the common law and equity conflict, equity was to prevail.’ This rule the king quoted was a significant statement, without this Equity would not be able to provide any benefit for any future cases, in a sense, it would have no merit and be worthless in a court of law.


The Judiciary Acts of 1975 came into effect, which would simplify the process of obtaining justice. No longer did citizens have to go to two separate courts and go through different procedures to plead a case, All courts could now administer equity and Common law. This Act was significant to the development of our Legal system today, and it allowed both Laws to be applied by judges in any courts.

With the development of ‘Maxims,’ It was decided that certain maxims must be satisfied before applying Equity. ‘He who comes to equity must come with clean hands’ which means that claimants who have themselves not been in good faith will not be granted an equitable remedy. An example of this maxim was set in the case of D & C Builders v Rees [1965], where the claimant took partial payment of a debt and deemed it would be a complete payment. Per Lord Denning MR: ‘If there is a genuine accord, acted on by the debtor to his detriment, equity prevents the creditor from suing for the rest of the debt.’ The outcome of this case stated ‘There is no legal accord and satisfaction where a creditor accepts form his debtor his cheque for a lesser amount in full satisfaction of a larger debt.’. ‘Delay defeats equity’ which means that a claimant must not take an unreasonable amount of time to bring an action. An example was set in the case of Leaf vs International Galleries [1950]. Where a claimant purchased a painting and after Five years realized it was not authentic, at this point the court held that the delay had been too long. Moreover, the Third maxim that will be. Discussed is ‘He who seeks equity must do equity’ Anyone who has themselves been in the wrong in some way will not be granted an equitable remedy. An example of this applied to the case of Chappell v Times Newspaper Ltd [1975] Newspaper employees were on strike and were threatened to be fired unless they stop the strike. The employees applied for an injunction, but the court held that in order to be rewarded this remedy they would withdraw their strike if the injunction was granted. This was not the case they did not agree, and the remedy was not granted.

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Equitable Remedies came in to satisfy different areas where it was needed, as many as 20 remedies emerged but there are a select few which are essential. An Injunction orders the defendants to do or not to do something, an example was used in Warner Bros. v Nelson (1937). This was an example where an injunction was brought against a film artist who entered a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures which stated the artist could not provide service to another company without express written consent. The court found that an injunction was to be applied from stopping the artist from providing services to another company. Specific Performance means that a party must fulfill a previous agreement, And example of this was set in the case Wolverhampton Corp. v Emmons (1902) Where land was sold to a contractor to demolish and build houses, The contractor then refused to continues. The plaintiff took action and asked that specific performance to be ordered since damages would not be a remedy because another contractor could not complete the work. Rectification is an order that alters the words of a document which does not express the real intention of the parties to it. An example of this was used in the case Craddock v Hunt (1923) This involved the sale of land, the parties orally agreed that an adjoining yard would not be included in the sale. However, it included the yard in the written contract. Therefore rectification was ordered. Rescission restores parties to a contract to the position they were in before the contract was signed. This was shown in the case of Grist v Bailey (1967) When a seller sold a house which they believed had a tenant living in it but was later revealed that the owner was dead. The house was worth more than what it was being sold for, so a new contract was created.

Over time from the many views of lawyers, judges, and kings concluded equity should be enforced and was here to stay. It has proven to be very flexible and is capable of meeting new challenges in the future. It is a critical instrument in reducing harshness, sentences, and also giving remedies to situations that require more than just economic justice. Maxims and Remedies are crucial for the gaps in common law. Therefore Equitable remedies used in contrast with common law is the key to fair and moral outcomes in future cases to come.



  1. Rebecca Huxley-Binns, ,Jacqueline Martin, and Tom Frost, Unlocking the English  Legal System, 5th edn (Routledge,2017)
  1. Emily Allbon, Sanmeet Kaur Dua, English Legal System, 19th edn (Pearson, 2018)


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