Gillett V. Holt Essay

2974 words - 12 pages

Gillett v. Holt

The doctrine of proprietary estoppel is an equitable intervention in
cases where the enforcement of legal rights is considered by the
courts to be unconscionably unfair. The essence of the doctrine
arises, as defined by Snell:

'[when] one (A) is encouraged to act to his detriment by the
representations or encouragement of another (O) so that it would be
unconscionable for O to insist on his strict legal rights.' (McGhee,
2000, p.637)

In the absence of a written agreement, estoppel acts as an evidentiary
tool with which the courts can help ensure fair interaction in
property dealings. Proprietary estoppel is a method by which informal
arrangements are recognized as being capable of creating proprietary
interests. Given that it lies within the domain of equity, the case
law indicates a great flexibility in its application, both in the
substantive requirements of proof demanded by the courts and in the
manner in which the courts will satisfy the equity. It is the first of
these aspects of the doctrine that I will examine in this essay. I
will look at the shift in the evidentiary requirements and what a
representation (or an assurance of rights), a reliance (a change of
position on the basis of that assurance) and a detriment (or
unconscionable disadvantage) - the three pre-requisites for a
successful claim - have come to mean with regard to case law and in
particular the judgement of Judge Robert Walker in the Court of Appeal
in Gillett v. Holt[1], in which the plaintiff had been given repeated
assurances over many decades that he would inherit the defendant's
estate, and remained in service to him at least partially on that
basis until the promises were finally rescinded. In that case, Walker
J referred to the need to "look at the case in the round" when
deciding whether the application of proprietary estoppel is an
appropriate remedy. Whether this amounts to a departure from the
criteria laid down by Oliver J in Taylor Fashions v Liverpool Victoria
Trustees (1982)[2] that a claimant must prove an assurance, a reliance
and a detriment in circumstances where it would be unconscionable for
the defendant to strictly assert his legal right is crucial in
determining the status of proprietary estoppel after Gillett v Holt.

Proprietary estoppel has been available as an equitable remedy for
decades, performing Equity's duty and intervening in instances where
the absence of an informal agreement results in a manifest abuse of
legal property rights. An early case that gave it credibility as a
legal option was Inwards v. Baker[3] in which a son who had
constructed a bungalow on his father's land upon his request and lived
in it with his family for over 30 years was granted a licence by
estoppel to remain on the land for as long as he desired despite the
absence...

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