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In Thorner v- Major, the House of Lords confirmed that a claimant seeking to establish a proprietary estoppel must prove three things:....Critically analyse and evaluate this statement in light of recent developments in the law of proprieta

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Introduction

"In Thorner -v- Major, the House of Lords confirmed that a claimant seeking to establish a proprietary estoppel must prove three things: (1) that the defendant's assurances or conduct in relation to identified property were sufficiently clear and unambiguous in all the circumstances, (2) to lead the claimant reasonably to rely on those assurances or conduct; (3) by acting significantly to his detriment, so that it would be unconscionable for the defendant to deny him any remedy." (Per Hayton and Mitchell: 'Commentary and cases on the law of Trust and Equitable Remedies', 13th edition, Sweet and Maxwell, page 78) Critically analyse and evaluate this statement in light of recent developments in the law of proprietary estoppel. Despite the lack of a definitive formulation, it is widely accepted that the elements of assurance, reliance and detriment must be present in order to found a claim of proprietary estoppel1. The doctrine has however been widely criticised for being too flexible and uncertain. The main cause of this uncertainty is the lack of clarity surrounding the role of unconscionability. It has been stated that unconscionability is "at the heart of the doctrine,"2 and yet there is "little guidance as to what it means, little explanation of why it is at the centre and thus virtually no consideration of the role it might play in providing both a justification for, and a limitation on, successful estoppels"3. Commentators have largely agreed that there is a "need to develop clear parameters for the operation of the doctrine, else it really will be a discretionary panacea for all ills whose application is unpredictable and uncertain.4 Prior to Thorner v Major [2009]5 and Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008]6 it had been 142 years since a case of ...read more.

Middle

29 Thorner dealt with proprietary estoppel in the domestic context. One cousin had worked unpaid on the other's farm for nearly 30 years on the understanding that he would inherit the farm on his cousin's death. The cousin died intestate and the claim of proprietary estoppel had been rejected by the Court of Appeal. One reason given for this failure was that the extent of the farm had fluctuated in the preceding years and so the interest the claimant expected to receive was not a sufficiently 'certain interest' as required following Cobbe. The Lords in Thorner made it clear that "the reasoning in Cobbe's case...was directed to the unusual facts of that case"30 and that in Cobbe "there was no doubt about the physical identity of the property. However, there was total uncertainty as to the...property interest...In this case...there is...no doubt as to what was the subject of the assurance, namely the farm as it existed from time to time. Accordingly, the nature of the interest to be received by David was clear: it was the farm as it existed on Peter's death.31 They confirmed that the assurances "should relate to identified property owned (or, perhaps, about to be owned) by the defendant."32and that "It would represent a regrettable and substantial emasculation of the beneficial principle of proprietary estoppel if it were artificially fettered so as to require the precise extent of the property the subject of the alleged estoppel to be strictly defined in every case."33 Context is vital, whereas a specific certainty may be required in a commercial situation, this will not necessarily be required in a domestic context. The Court of Appeal had also required that the nature of the assurance be "clear and unequivocal" 34. ...read more.

Conclusion

210 19 Jennings v Rice [2003] 1 P&CR 8 20 Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008] 1 W.L.R. 1752 Lord Walker 66 21 Ibid [2008] 1 W.L.R. 1752 Lord Walker 68 22 Ibid [2008] 1 W.L.R. 1752 Lord Walker 91 23 Gillett v Holt [2001] Ch. 210 24 McFarlane & Robertson (2009)538 25 Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008] 1 W.L.R. 1752 Lord Walker 67 26 Gillett v Holt [2001] Ch. 210, Jennings v Rice [2003] 1 P&CR 8 27 Dixon M.J (2009) p261 28 Thorner v Major [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 29 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 31 30 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 99 31 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 94-95 32 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 61 33 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 98 34 Thorner v Major [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Scott 18 35 Cobbe v Yeoman's Row Management Ltd [2008] 1 W.L.R. 1752 Lord Scott 14 36 Thorner v Major [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 59 37 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Hoffman 2 38 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 56 39 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 97 40 Ibid [2009]1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 67 41 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Hoffman 5 42 Gillett v Holt [2001] Ch. 210 Walker LJ 225 43 Thorner v Major [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 100 44 McFarlane & Robertson (2009) 535 45 Thorner v Major [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Walker 61 46 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 97 47 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Hoffman 5 48 Ibid [2009] 1 W.L.R. 776 Lord Neuberger 98 49 Dixon M. J. (2009)267 50 Dixon M. (2010) 417 51 Balen & Knowles (2011) 187-90 ?? ?? ?? ?? Land Law 1 ...read more.

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