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Promissory Estoppel is a shield not a sword

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"Promissory estoppel may be used as a shield but not a sword" English Law defines promissory estoppel as "a principle of justice and of equity. It comes to this: when a man, by his words or conduct, has led another to believe in a particular state of affairs, he will not be allowed to go back on it when it would be unjust or inequitable for him to so."1 Estoppel provides a way in which promises can be legally binding even if no consideration has been given. The importance of promissory estoppel in contract law is that it has enabled legal obligations, which fall into the category of contract law but fail to show any consideration, to be argued for. Promissory estoppel relates to a future contract or a form of future conduct, where a promise, or something very much resembling a promise, is made in future tense not to do something. It prevents a party from acting in a certain way because the first party promised not to do something, and the second party relied on that promise and acted upon it. The courts of Equity made it clear that in certain cases a person could not go back on such a future promise, thus proving to be binding despite the fact that no consideration had been given. The statement that "promissory estoppel may be used as a shield but not a sword"2 was introduced by the council in the case of Combe v Combe3 and was later approved by Birkett LJ. ...read more.


This case demonstrates how promissory estoppel is implemented as a shield in the English legal system. The effect that promissory estoppel has on the promisee's position is that although the promisee need not provide any consideration for the promisor's promise they cannot sue on that promise, as they have not given any consideration. In this way the doctrine of promissory estoppel cannot be used as a cause of action in itself as it does not act in a way that it confers new rights on the promisee, it only operates to prevent the promisor from fully enforcing their rights against the promisee, and in this way it acts as a shield, not a sword. The effect of promissory estoppel on the legal rights of the promisor is, in effect, to "suspend but not fully extinguish the promisor's strict legal rights,"15 enabling those rights to be re-established and resumed. This can only take place once reasonable notice has been given to the promisee of the intention of their plans and providing that the promisee is able to resume their previous position. In this way promissory estoppel ensures that the promisee is shielded from any unfair dealings of the promisor but the promisor is not in danger of any reverse action such as being sued. The statement "promissory estoppel may be used as a shield but not a sword," a well as being the most famous in reference to the use of promissory estoppel, is also very apt in the description of the way in which promissory estoppel works. ...read more.


from suffering detriment."24 1 Lord Denning LJ, Moorgate Mercantile v Twitchings [1976] 1 QB 225 2 Birkett LJ, Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 3 Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 4 Oxford English Dictionary, second edition 1989 5 Oxford English Dictionary, second edition 1989 6 Central London Property Trust v High Trees House Ltd [1947] K.B. 130 7 Hughes v Metropolitan Railway Co (1876-77) L.R. 2 App. Cas. 439 8 Birmingham & District Land Co v London & North Western Railway Co [1887] L.R. 34 Ch. D. 261 9 Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 10 Central London Property Trust v High Trees House Ltd [1947] K.B. 130 11 Lord Denning LJ, Combe v Combe [1951] 2 KB 215 12 Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 13 Lord Denning LJ, Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 14 Lord Denning LJ, Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 15 Tool Metal Manufacturing Co. Ltd. v Tungsten Electric Co. Ltd. [1995] 1 W.L.R. 7611 W.L.R. 761 16 "The offensive limits of promissory estoppel" Roger Halson, 1999 17 "The offensive limits of promissory estoppel" Roger Halson, 1999, p1. 18 Crabb v Arun D.C. [1976] Ch. 179, p.198. 19 Pinnel's Case [1602] 5 Co Rep 117a 20 Pinnel's Case [1602] 5 Co Rep 117a 21 Foakes v. Beer [1884] 9 App Cas 605. 22 Central London Property Trust v High Trees House Ltd [1947] K.B. 130 23 Combe v Combe [1951] 2 K.B. 215 24 Crabb v Arun D.C. [1976] Ch.179, p.189 ...read more.

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