Equity and Common Law remedies
Briefly outline the remedies available in Equity and the Common Law.
In order to be influential, the law must be professed as both certain and predictable yet flexible and fair. Specifically, it needs clear rules on the one hand and flexibility on the other to produce exceptions to cases that lead to incongruous or unjust conclusions if the rules are applied rigidly. In any system of law, there lies an inevitable dilemma: the problem of reconciling the warring demands between justice and certainty. The view stands that the more general the rule, the less likely it is to do justice to all cases it is applied to. Likewise, the more it is tried to construct a set of rules to apply to all permutations and combinations of cases laid in front of it would lead to a legal system of immense complexity. Such a system would mean justice is served in all scenarios but would present many difficulties in navigating it for the relevant laws. Thus, the concepts of different remedies awarded based not just on monetary compensation but also based on the courts ordering parties to perform certain actions that would be justified in the eyes of the law.
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Whereas remedies of common law are often in the form of monetary compensation, remedies of equity law result in the courts awarding court orders to the relevant parties. It is important to note that while common law remedies are available as of right, equity law remedies are given on a purely discretional basis. The factors contributing can range from the will of the court to the behaviour and situation of the party claiming the remedies. This means that the courts can deem a party undeserving of an award if that parties’ conduct was unbecoming.
Equitable remedies, unlike those of common law, are given at the sole discretion of the presiding judge. Remedies of equity law are awarded in cases where monetary damages will not produce a just result in the eyes of the law. The usual equitable remedies are:
- Injunctions – a court order requiring someone to do something or to cease doing something.
- Specific Performance – a court order requiring one of the parties to a contractual agreement to complete their part of the contract. It is often only given where the court can supervise the operation of the contract’s order.
- Rectification – a court order relating to the alteration of contractual documents.
- Rescission – a court order that returns relevant parties to a contractual document back to the position before they had entered the agreement. This is different from awarding of damages in common law, which is intended to see parties in the position they would have been had the contract been completed.
Common law remedies, on the other hand, are interested in a singular, highly technical and strict approach to awarding remedies to the relevant parties in a civil case. Strict procedural rules and the principle known as stare decisis meant that most cases presented in the courts would be treated in a manner similar to cases of similar contention in the past. On top of that, the only remedies awarded by common law are damages. Some awardable damages in common law are:
- Actual/Compensatory damages – payable to claimant for loss, injury or harm suffered by another individual’s breach of duty.
- Statutory damages – these monetary remedies are laid down by law. Simple violation of the applicable rules can entitle the victim to statutory awards.
- Exemplary/Non-compensatory damages – are not awarded to compensate the claimant but as a form of deterrence to the defendant and other would-be offenders from pursuing a similar course of action in the future.
- Restitutionary/Disgorgement damages – the defendant is made to surrender all profits through the civil wrong in restitution. The claimant then gains damages which are not measured by referring to losses sustained.
Equitable remedies exist to achieve natural justice where the usefulness of monetary compensation is both limited and not justified under the eyes of the law. With remedies of common law, adherence to the letter of the law has occasionally produced unjust results. The existence of equity law is an acknowledgement of the English legal system of the need to prevent these rare occurrences.