1.0) Introduction

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1.0) Introduction

In English law, consideration is one of the characteristic of contract law. Historically, the Statute of Frauds 1677 required that certain classes of contract be evidenced in writing. However, consideration is no longer required for specialty contracts. According to section 1(2) and 1(3) of the Law of Property ( Miscellaneous Provisions Act) 1989, there must be some conduct on the part of the person executing the deed to show he intends to bound by it but later this requirements of seal was abolished by section 1(1)(b) of this Act. A promise made without consideration is generally not enforcable. For example, a saleman promises not to sell a motorcycle over the weekend, but does so. The promise cannot be enforced. If however, the salesman accepts £100 in 'consideration' for the promise, the promise is capable of  binding effect and therefore enforcable in court. Thus, estoppel is one of the exceptions to this rule. Promissory estoppel is the doctrine that prevents a party from acting in a certain way because the first party promised not to, and the second party relied on that promise and acted upon it. The underlying purpose was to prevent injustice which as a result of strict adherence to the law. In Woodhouse AC Israel Cocoa Ltd SA v Nigerian Produce Marketing Co Ltd, Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone LC said:
     “I desire to add that the time may soon come when the whole sequence of
      cases based on promissory estoppel since the war, beginning with
      High Trees House, may need to be reviewed and reduced to a coherent body    

      of doctrine by the courts. I do not mean to say they are to be regarded with
      suspicion. But as is common with an expanding doctrine they do raise
      problems of coherent exposition which have never been systematically

It has been suggested that the consistent trend in the modern decisions points inevitably towards the emergence of 'one overarching doctrine of estoppel rather than a series of independent rules, and previously the cases expressing the various categories of estoppel, are but ‘statements of aspects of a wider doctrine and none has sought to be exclusive’.

2.0) Main body of thesis:

2.1)The origin of promissory estoppel

The starting point for the modern law of promissory estoppel maybe traced back to the statement made by Lord Cairns in Hughes v Metropolitan Railway Co. As Lord Cairns put in:
     “ ... it is the first principle upon which all courts of equity proceed,
      that if parties who have entered into definite and distinct terms
      involving certain legal results -- certain penalties or legal
      forfeiture -- afterwards by their own act or with their own consent
      enter upon a course of negotiation which has the effect of leading one
      of the parties to suppose that the strict rights arising under the
      contract will not be enforced, or will be kept in suspense or held in
      abeyance, the person who otherwise might have enforced those rights
      will not be allowed to enforce them where it would be inequitable,
      having regard to the dealings which have thus taken place between the

In this case, a landlord gave his tenant notice to repair the premises within six months in October 1874 and stated that failure to do so would result in the forfeiture of the tenancy. Some negotiations took place for the landlord to purchase the residue of the lease from the tenant. However, the negotiations were broken off on 31 December. During that time, the tenant did nothing to repair the premises and on expiry of six months of the original notice, the landlord regarded the lease as forfeited and sought to evict the tenant. The House of Lords held that the negotiations with the tenant amounted to a promise by the landlord that as long as that negotiation continued, the notice would not be enforced. So, the tenant relied on the promise and abstains from carrying out the repairs and the effect of six months period was suspended while negotiations were taking place and ran again only the time the negotiations ended. Therefore, it would be inequitable to allow the tenant to be evicted based on the original notice.

However, Lord Denning has developed the doctrine of promissory estoppel into a popular form in Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd (High Trees House).  Lord Denning held that there was no consideration for the promise. However, his Lordship thought that the defendants could not appropriate and reprobate. If the defendants were to enforce the promise, they would fail. But the promise was used merely as a defence and consideration should not have been relevant. The plaintiffs were not enforcing a contract and need not have proven one. Estoppel seemed to be the applicable principle but the common law was not helpful on the point and the rule in Jorden v Money appeared impossible. In Jorden, the House of Lords, decided that estoppel may operate only upon a misrepresentation of existing fact and that ‘a representation to the future must be embodied as a contract or be nothing’. Therefore, it cannot apply where a party seeks to rely on a promise of future conduct.

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2.2) Prerequisites of promissory estoppel

Promissory estoppel requires (1) there must be an existing legal relationship,                  (2) detrimental reliance; (3) the doctrine can only be used as a “shield not a sword”,

(4) Inequity for the promissory to go back upon his promise and (5) the doctrine is only suspensory in its effect.

 2.2.1) The requirement of a pre-existing contractual relationship

It has been controversial over the issue of whether the requirement of pre-existing contractual relationship was necessary for the existence of promissory estoppel. The first element of promissory estoppel is that ...

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