Table of Contents
Maxims, as Salmond observes, are proverbs of the law and provide useful means for the expression of leading doctrines of the law in a form which is brief and intelligible. Although as a matter of fact, these twelve maxims do not go to the root of equity in as much as some of them are of comparatively recent origin, yet as Hanbury says, they are the fruits of observation of developed equitable doctrines and the ideas embodied in them are far older than their articulate expression.
The subject-matter of Equity can be grouped round the twelve maxims which embody general principles on which the Court of Chancery exercised its jurisdiction. They are based upon and derived from those essential
principles of rights and obligations which have a judicial relation with the events of society. These judicial principles constituting the sources of equitable doctrines are commonly known as “Maxims of Equity“.
The Maxims of Equity are as follows:
- Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy.
- Equity follows the law.
- He who seeks Equity, must do equity.
- He who comes to Equity, or Equity aids the vigilant and not the indolent.
- He who comes to Equity, must come with clean hands.
Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy
This maxim is a restricted derivation of a more comprehensive legal maxim, “Ubi jus Ibi remedium” i.e., where there is a right there is a remedy. Rights and remedies co-exist as has been said in the case of Ashby v. White. “When the law clothes a man with a right, he must have means to vindicate and maintain it, and remedy if he is injured in the exercise and employment of it and indeed it is a vain thing to imagine a right without a remedy, for want of right and want of remedy are reciprocal.”
This maxim gives the way that each and every right has to be enforced and the wrongs have to be redressed by equity if they are incapable of being redressed by the common law. This maxim is the backbone of the whole jurisdiction of equity.
It is to be noted that this maxim treats ‘Need of Right’ and ‘Need of Remedy’ reciprocal. The basic idea behind the jurisdiction of equity is that no wrong should go unredressed provided it was capable of being remedied by the courts. In the early period, Equity transformed moral wrongs into legal wrongs and then later on used this maxim to enhance the jurisdiction.
In fact, the very object of this maxim is to give effect to a right which is suitable for judicial enforcement but which was not enforced at common law on account of some technical defect.
Essentials Of This Maxim
In order to invoke the aid of this maxim either of the three conditions should exist, namely—
- The right be recognised by the law, although not by law.
- The right be recognised by the law, although the remedy be not available there,
- The remedy at law for the violation of the right be not complete or adequate.
Importance Of This Maxim
This maxim led the Chancellor to intervene in the Administration of Justice in order:-
- To give relief where the common law gave none.
- To give an adequate relief where the one available in common law courts was inadequate.
- To help the litigants by offering facilities in evidence and procedure which the common law courts did not secure.
The maxim is subject to the following restrictions:
- The maxim does not apply where the right in question is a moral one and is not capable of being judicially enforced. The Court of Equity only interferes when there is an invasion of legal or equitable rights.
- The second limitation is that Equity does not interfere to remedy any wrong where the right and the remedy, both completely belong to the domain of the law.
- The maxim does not apply where a party has destroyed, lost, or waived his right to an equitable remedy by his own act or laches.
With these limitations the principle has been developed into the vast range of equitable jurisdiction which provides following remedies:
- Legal remedies for the violation of the legal rights in a more certain, adequate and complete manner than the law can give;
- Equitable remedies for violation of legal rights which the law has no power to give.
Equity Follows The Law
This maxim means that Equity is not a body of jurisprudence acting contrary to law, but rather a supplement to law. The Court of Chancery never claimed to override the Courts of Common Law. Maitland correctly observes that “Every jot and every title of Law was to be obeyed but when all this had been done, something might yet be needful, something that Equity would require” and that was added by Equity.
Storey in elucidation of the above maxim explained that “where a rule either of the Common Law or the Statute Law, is direct, and governs the case with all its circumstances on a particular point, the Equity Court is as much bound by it as a Court of Law, and can as little justify a departure from it.”
This maxim is understood in the following two respects:
- Equity adopts and follows the rules of law in all cases where applicable.
- Equity follows the analogies of Common Law.
Application Of Maxim
The maxims has two-fold application to the subject-matter. The subject matter may be–
- A legal estate, right or interest or,
- An Equitable estate, right or interest.
As regards a legal estate, right or interest, Equity is strictly bound by the rules of law and the court of Chancery never claimed to override the Courts of Common law. Equity in these cases obeyed the law even if the legal rules in question were hard or unfair.
The rule of Common Law that where a man died intestate, leaving sons and daughters and possessed of a free simple estate, the eldest son was entitled to the whole of the land, was undoubtedly most unfair to the younger sons and the daughters, but Equity granted them no relief. But if the eldest son had persuaded his father not to make a will and had promised to share the property with his brothers and sisters, Equity would have compelled him to fulfill his promise. It would have been against conscience to allow him to keep the benefit of the legal estate which he only obtained by reason of his promise. So, while recognising the legal rule and giving full effect to it, Equity said that this did not conclude the matter, the circumstances of the son’s promise must also be taken into consideration, and he must be a trustee of the and for himself and his brothers and sisters.
The maxim applies in both the cases of legal estate and equitable estate generally, but there are certain cases of exceptions to the general application of the maxim. In exceptional cases, where an exact legal rule was neither directly applicable nor capable of being extended on principles of analogy. Equity processed to administer justice on principles and rules of its own.
He Who Seeks Equity Must Do Equity
This maxim states that the plaintiff is also subject to the powers of the court and obligated to perform his duties following the principles of equity. If a litigant claims something by way of Equity, he must be ready and willing, to grant to the other party, that which belongs to that other party in Equity.
As Lord Romilly Mr explained in Haywood v Cope (1858), “the discretion of the Court must be exercised according to fixed and settled rules; you cannot exercise a discretion by merely considering what, as between the parties, would be fair to be done; what one person may consider fair, another person may consider very unfair; you must have some settled rule and principle upon which to determine how that discretion is to be exercised.”
Application Of The Maxim
The maxim is applicable to the following legal provisions:
Indian Contract Act– Section 19-A of the Indian Contract Act lays down that “When consent to an agreement is caused by undue influence, the agreement is a contract voidable at the option of the party whose consent was so caused.
Specific Relief Act– Section 38 of the Specific Relief Act,1963 provides that on adjudging the recession of a contract, the court may require the party to whom such relief is granted to make any compensation to the other party, which justice may require.
Transfer Of Property Act– Section 35 of the TPA lays down that whoever takes a benefit under an instrument must accept or reject the instrument as a whole.
Indian Trusts Act– Section 62 of India trust act imposes the equitable condition on the beneficiary to repay the trustees the purchase money with the interest and of other legitimate expenses when he seeks a declaration on trust or retransfer of trust property wrongfully bought by the trustee.
- Wife’s Equity to a settlement.
- The doctrine of mutuality in specific performance.
- Unconscionable Bargains.
- Election & Mortgage.
- Mortgage by deposits of title deeds.
There are however two important limitations bearing the scope of maxim. They are as follows:
Firstly, in order for the maxim may apply, it is necessary that the equity sought by or awarded to the defendant is with respect to the subject-matter of the suit or grows out of the controversy pending before the court.
Secondly, the maxim applies only where a party is appealing to the court in order to obtain some equitable relief. It is not applicable when the plaintiff seeks to enforce purely legal rights even though through a Court Of Equity.
He who comes to Equity must come with clean hands
The maxim is sometimes expressed in another form i.e., “he that hath committed iniquity shall not have equity”. It means that the person seeking relief from a court of equity, must not himself be guilty of a conduct (with regard to the same transaction) which would disentitle him to the assistance of the court. He must be clean, clear of any participation in fraud or similar inequitable conduct.
The maxim is based on conscience and good faith. While a Court of Equity tries to promote and enforce justice, good faith, uprightness and fairness on the part of the defendant, it nonetheless, stringently demands the same from the plaintiff. The plaintiff must concede all equitable rights of his adversary which grow out of or are inseparable connected with the matter in dispute.
This maxim is applicable both to the defendant as well as to the plaintiff, and the man who seeks to avail himself of an equitable defense, must stand the test as well as one who appears as plaintiff in a case.
Application Of The Maxim
Indian Trust Act- The principle has been incorporated in Section 23 of the Indian Trust Act which provides that the beneficiary cannot successfully sue the trustee to make good the loss to the trust property due to breach of trust if the beneficiary has, by fraud, induced the trustee to commit a breach of trust.
Specific Relief Act- Section 22 of the Specific Relief Act lays down that, “Jurisdiction to decree specific performance is discretionary and the Court is not bound to grant such relief merely because it is lawful to do so.”
Similarly, Section 25 of the Act denies specific performance of a contract for the sale or letting of property to the vendor or lessor if he entered into the contract knowing that he had no title to the property.
Injunction. On the same principle, the Court of Equity will not grant any injunction to a party in the continuance of a legal wrong even if the defendant is also guilty of legal wrong. Equity will not grant injunction, for Equity will not adjust difference between wrong-doers. Fraud, illegality and breach of copyright in works are the instances of immoral or libelous acts for the continuance of which the Court will not grant injunction.
Relief of rescission or cancellation- These are equitable reliefs provided under Chapters IV and V of the Specific Relief Act and the conditions being fulfilled, the Court would rescind a contract or cancel an instrument. But if there is anything unfair or inequitable on the part of the plaintiff, the relief will not be available to him.
Limitation & Exceptions
This maxim does not apply to every unconscientious or inequitable conduct on the part of the plaintiff. It is confined to the misconduct in regard to the matter in litigation.
However the maxims does not apply in the following cases:
- Cases Of Public Policy
These maxims of equity serve as guiding principles for judges in applying equitable remedies and ensuring fairness in the legal system. They help balance the rigid rules of common law with the flexibility and discretion of equity to achieve just outcomes in individual cases.