Equity law is a set of legal principles classically created by the Court of Chancery, with an intention to “mitigate the rigor of common law”. As can be seen, the Court of Chancery lacked particular fixed rules, such that the the Lord Chancellor occasionally judged in accordance with his own conscience. Later however, it lost much of its flexibility.
Also, equity law began to rival common law, and tensions boiled in the Earl of Oxford’s case (1615), where the Lord Chancellor issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of a common law order. King James I held equity would prevail, and it’s superiority was later enshrined in the Judicature Acts. Soon later, it became consolidated into common law.
However, it is important that even though common law and equity law can be analogized to 2 streams of a river running side-by-side, it is important not to mix them up.
Historically, the “common law” court was tended by the King’s Judges educated in law (rather than theology). However, if the litigants weren’t satisfied with the result, they could appeal directly to the King’s mercy or conscience. As there were increased number of cases, the king delegated such petitions to the Chancellor, often clergymen trained in theology, and therefore literal keepers of the King’s conscience.
Maxims of equity law
In particular earlier on, as equity was as flexible as the Chancellor made it to be, there are many maxims of equity law, as diverse as “to err is human”.
Other equity maxims include:
- Equity regards done what ought to be done
- Equity follows the law
- One who comes into equity must come with clean hands
- A person who seeks equity must do equity
- Equity will not allow a statute to be used as a cloak/instrument for fraud
- Equity delights in equality
- Equity acts in personam
- Equity looks into intent not form
- Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy
- Where equities are equal, the law will prevail
- Where the equities are equal, the first in time prevails
- Equity aids the diligent and not the tardy
- Equity will not allow a trust to fail for want of a trustee