In this article T.Preethi, student from government law college, Tirunelveli, writes about what the doctrine of estoppel is, its types and scope.

INTRODUCTION

Estoppels in the legal sense, is a principle that prevents someone from giving false evidence by holding then back from not making any contradictory statement in the court of law. This doctrine is basically to prevent the commission of fraud by one person against another person. A person will be held accountable for false representation made by him either by word or act under this doctrine. Section 115-117 of the Indian evidence act deals with this doctrine.

DEFINITION

Section 115 of the Indian evidence act interprets estoppels meaning as – when one person has by his declaration, act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his representative shall be allowed, in any suit on proceeding between himself and such person or his representative to deny the truth of that thing.

In simple terms, estoppel means that, a person can’t deny, declare, or contradict a statement as a false one that was previously made by him in the court. This particular doctrine is steep in matters of equity and good conscience. Equity won’t allow a person to contradict his own statement; rather it would “estop” him from denying his previous declaration, act or representation.

Estoppel is based on the legal maxim allegans contraria non est audiendus”, which means, a person alleging contradictory facts should not be heard”. Under this doctrine, the fact presumed is taken to be true, but it is not against the entire world, just the particular party.

This is a complex legal notion, because it involves several essential elements to such as

  • A statement that is to be acted upon
  • Acting upon it, believing it to be true
  • Resulting detriment of the actor.

Estoppel is basically a rule of civil action and has very limited applicability in criminal matters.

Principle

Estoppel is based on the principle that some duty should exist. The section that when a person has by his 

  1. Declaration
  2. Act or
  3. Omission

Has intentionally caused or permitted another person

  • To believe the matter to be true and 
  • To act upon such belief

Then, neither the person nor his representative will be allowed to deny the truth of that thing in any suit or proceeding between himself and such person or his representative.

To invoke this doctrine, certain conditions are to be satisfied. Those conditions are

  1. The representation should be made by one person to another person 
  2. The representation should be made as to the facts and not laws
  3. The representation should be made to an existing fact
  4. The representation made should be in a way, Such that the other person believes it to be true.
  5. The person to whom the representation was made, should experience a loss/ suffer a loss by the representation

Difference between Estoppel, Res Judicata and Waiver

Difference between estoppel and res judicata

Sl.noestoppelRes judicate
1.This is a rule that prohibits one from contradicting to that which was earlier said by him in a courtThis principle prohibits the other courts from deciding on the same matter that was already decided by  a competent court
2.This is based on the rule of equity which is natural law of the landThis has been recognized as a legal procedure by the law
3.This looks into aspect such as equity, justice, and good conscienceThis deals only with the public  policy
4.This arises out of the words, acts or conduct of a partyThis arises out of the decision taken by the cases that had already been decided by a competent court.
5.This has been incorporated from sections 115-117 of the Indian evidence act,1872This principle has been incorporated under section 11 of the civil procedure code.
6.Estoppel is implied through the actions or conduct of the partiesThis is based on previous decisions given by a competent court; it is claimed by the parties.

Difference between Estoppel and Waiver

Sl.noestoppelWaiver
1.This can’t be the cause of action although it can facilitate or aid the enforcing of a cause of action by preventing the defendant from not denying what was earlier said by himThis is contractual and it is an agreement to release somebody from an agreement by waving the previous set of policies or to assert a right. Waiver is a cause of action.
2.The person injured will have prove the loss or harm occurredThere isn’t any requirement in waiver
3.There isn’t any necessity for the party to know what the truth is or have the knowledge of the realityThe parties involved in a waiver must have knowledge about the real facts and they should know the truth
4.There are situations where acquiescence would amount to estoppelWhile in waiver , along with acquiescence, some act or conduct Is also necessary
5.Doctrine of estoppels is used as a defence in the court of law and not as a cause of actionThis can be used as a defence for claiming damages.

Kinds of Estoppel

There are different kinds of estoppel. They are

  1. Estoppel by matter of record
  2. Estoppel by deed; and 
  3. Estoppel in pais

Estoppel by Matter of Record

It is part of records of the court; it is narrative and the proof for the proceeding. Estoppel by records is a result of judgments by the competent court. This primarily is concerned with the effect of the judgments and their admissibility in evidence. It is the final decision and the parties, their representatives, executors, etc all are bound by that. This doctrine ‘estops’ the parties from raising another suit regarding the same matter of fact after the case has been closed.

There are certain situations where estoppel by records arise, such as

When the disputes on the facts have been decided by the tribunal and the same dispute arises again in matters that are subsequent to the first one, between the same parties.

When the issue resolved by the judiciary, comes into questioning in the subsequent proceeding between the same parties.

When an issue on the facts, is affecting the status of the person or thing, has been determined in a manner such that in the final decision it be included as a substantive part of the judgment in rem of the tribunal that has been authorized to decide the particular case. This must take place when the same issue comes directly to question in subsequent civil proceedings between any parties.

This judgment is of two types

  1. Judgment in rem
  2. Judgment in personam

Judgment in Rem

The decree delivered by a competent jurisdiction court, tells about the status of the person or thing, it is generally conclusive upon all persons.

Judgment in personam

This type of judgment is binding on the parties and their privies and determines the rights of the parties to a suit or the proceedings.

Estoppel by Deed

The parties here solemnly enter into an agreement deed as to certain facts; neither the party, nor his privies claiming through or under him are permitted to deny such fact. Application of this rule is subject to certain qualifications. They are

  1. The rule applies only between parties and privies and only in action on the deed.
  2. No estoppel arises upon recitals or descriptions which are either immaterial or not intended to bind
  3. No estoppel arises where the deed is tainted by fraud or illegality.
  4. A deed which can take effect by interest shall not be construed to take effect by estoppel. 

Estoppel in Pais by Conduct

Estoppels in pais is “in the country or before the public”

Estoppel in pais arises from 

  • Agreement or contract and
  • An act or conduct of misrepresentation which has made a change in the position in accordance with the intent of the party to whom the estoppel is alleged.

To apply these estoppels , a person must have by his word pr act should make the other person believe that it is a fact and make him act on that belief in a way he would not have done if he had known the facts.

Equitable Estoppel 

If a person tries to take legal actions that would contradict with the statement, acts or claims that were previously given by him, this principle would restrict him from doing so. Thus, this principle would stop the plaintiff from bringing a suit against the defendant who acted according to the order of the plaintiff.

Proprietary Estoppel 

This principle is brought in cases where land or property is involved. In order to claim right under this, the following things have to be proved.

  1. The representation has to be made
  2. The party should have believed it to be true and acted upon the same
  3. The party should have suffered a loss as a result.

Promissory Estoppel 

If the person/ party had made a promise or assurance by word or act, with the intention to affect the legal relationship between them. Once, the other party takes the words into consideration and acts on it, then the one who made the promise can’t revert the relationship as if no such promise or awareness had been made by him.

This doctrine evolved by equity in order to present injustice. This is premised on the conduct where a party makes representations to the other party, in order to make him act upon. The supreme court of India, held that in order to invoke this doctrine, a clear, sound, and positive foundation must be laid by the party in the petition itself.

Issue Estoppel

The effect of this doctrine in a criminal proceeding would come into picture only if the previous and subsequent proceedings were also criminal prosecution. This principle says that even if the court has made a decision the relitigation of the issue would be prohibited on a different course of action involving both the parties from the very first case.

Estoppel by Silence and Acquiescence

When a person owes to another person to speak or act, and he fails to perform and remain silent. Then such a silence would work as an estoppel against the former. But there is no need for speaking, no estoppel can arise. A man is bound to speak in certain circumstances, but if he fails to do so and remains silent, it will be decoded as if he has openly consented to what is said or done and has become a party involved in that.

If a person just stands by while his right is being infringed by another person, the rule of estoppel by acquiescence applies. Estoppel by acquiescence in these matters is applied under the following conditions.

  1. The later must be mistaken as to his legal rights
  2. The later must expend money or do some act on the faith of his mistaken belief
  3. The former must known his own rights
  4. The former must be aware of the other person’s mistaken belief.
  5. The former must encourage the other in his expenditure of money or other act directly or by abstaining from asserting his legal rights.

  Estoppel by Negligence

To claim estoppel on the ground of negligence, it must be proven that the party against whom then plea is raised, owed a duty to the party who raises the plea, or towards the general public of which he is one and that the negligence on which it is based should not be indirectly or remotely connected with the misleading effect assigned to it but must be proximate or real cause of that result i.e., the negligence which can sustain a pleas of estoppel must be in the transaction itself and it should be so connected with the result to which it led that it is impossible to treat the two separately.

Estoppel by Recital in Deed

The recital in deed or statement or instrument is conclusive in some cases. In all cases it is considered as evidence against the parties. It is deliberately made by the parties to go against other parties.

Estoppel by Election

When a person makes a choice out of the options given to him. His choice is finalized and can’t be altered or retracted. That is the other person can only enjoy his choice and can’t take the other option as a supplement material, when his choice fails. This is based on the rule of estoppel, that is one person cant appropriate and reprobate inheres in it. This doctrine is applicable to all kinds of proceedings including civil and criminal matters.

Estoppel by taking up a Particular Position

If a party takes a particular position before the court of law, then he/she can’t approbate, reprobate and resile from that position. This is based on the legal maxim “allegans contraria non est audiendus” that is, he shall not be heard to say things contrary to each other”

Estoppels by Attestation

The Privy Council said that, the attestation of a deed does not by itself stop the person who is attesting it from denying that he knew of its contents or that he consented to the transaction which it effects and that knowledge of the contents of a deed is not to be inferred from the mere fact of attestation.

Estoppels by Consent

Consent given in a court that a controversy is covered by a judgment which has no applicability whatsoever and pertains to a different field, cannot estop the party from raising the point that the same was erroneously cited. An estoppel by consent decree can arise only when the question raised in the subsequent suit was present to the minds of the parties and was actually dealt with by the consent decree. In order to affect estoppel it is also necessary that it should appear on record that the question had been put in issue.

Scope

In order to hold a case that comes under this section. The court must find.

  1. That the party had believed a thing to be true
  2. That, he acted in a particular manner, as a result of the belief
  3. That the belief the person is acting upon was brought by some representation by another person, either by declaration, act or omission, which representation was made intentionally to produce such a result.

It isn’t necessary that the party claiming estoppels should have suffered any loss or detriment. The court held that “gradually the doctrine of promissory estoppel has developed to an extent that it is no longer necessary that the party seeking to enforce the principle must have suffered a detriment.

The Supreme Court has come up with certain requirements in terms of a large number of points.

To bring a case under the scope of estoppel, 

  1. There must be a representation by a person or his authorized agent to another in nay from- a declaration, act or omission
  2. The representation must have been of the existence of a fact and not of promise de future or intention which might not be enforceable in contract;
  3. The representation must have been meant to be relied on 
  4. There must have been belief on the part of the other party in its truth
  5. There must have been action on the faith of that declaration, act or omission; that is to say, the declaration, act or omission must have actually caused another to act on faith of it, and to alter his former position to his prejudice or detriment
  6. The misrepresentation or conduct or omission must have been the proximate cause of leading the other party to act to his prejudice;
  7. The person claiming the benefit of an estoppel must show that he was not aware of the true state of things- if he was aware of the real state of affairs or had means of knowledge, there can be no estoppel;
  8. Only the person to whom representation was made or for whom it was designed can avail himself of it. A person is entitled to plead estoppel in his own individual character and not as a representative of his assignee.

The law of estoppel doesn’t care about the movie or state of knowledge of the party upon whose representation the action took place. It cares about the position of the one who was induced to act upon a representation. The party can use an estoppel as a statement by which he was misled actually. The government is also not exempted from the equity arising out of the acts done by its citizens to their prejudice, relying on the representations as to its future conduct made by the government.

Public bodies are as much bound as private individuals in carrying out the representations of facts and promises made by them, relying on which the other people have altered their position to their prejudice. If a document is found to be void ab initio then, there would be no questions of estoppel.

The general idea about doctrine of estoppel so far is that it can be used as a defence and not a cause of action. But, the circumstances have changed it, now, under the impact of its application and extension to promissory estoppel; it can be brought as a cause of action also.

In RK Kawatra vs. DSIDC, AIR 1992 Del 28. The high court of Delhi observed that, the modern doctrine of promissory estoppel is of comparatively recent origin in the field of public law. The provisions regarding estoppel are a mere shadow of what the modern principles of promissory estoppel have come to be. The recent development in this area is that an independent action can be founded on a promissory estoppel and it is just a principle available only as a shield. It can also be used as a weapon of offence.

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