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    Proprietary estoppel – defendant giving assurances during lifetime association with plaintiff as to future right to property – relief to be granted.

    The plaintiff spent his working life as a farm manager and friend of the first defendant who had made repeated assurances over many years, usually on special family occasions, that the plaintiff would succeed to his farming business. Forty years after their first meeting, the relationship broke down. The first defendant made some lifetime dispositions to the second defendant. The plaintiff sought equitable relief based on proprietary estoppel. Carnwath J [1998] Gazette, 1 July; [1998] 3 All ER 917 dismissed the claim and the plaintiff appealed.

    Held, allowing the appeal, that the fundamental principle that equity was concerned to prevent unconscionable conduct permeated all the elements of the doctrine of proprietary estoppel and, in the end, the court had to look at the matter in the round; that criticisms of Taylor v Dickens [1998] 1 FLR 806 were well-founded; that detriment need not consist of the expenditure of money or other quantifiable financial detriment, so long as it was something substantial, and the requirement for detriment was to be approached as part of a broad inquiry as to whether repudiation of an assurance was or was not unconscionable in all the circumstances; that the defendant’s assurances had been repeated over a long period; some of them had been completely unambiguous and intended to be relied on, and had been relied on; and that the defendant’s assurances were capable of forming the foundation for an enforceable claim based on proprietary estoppel.

    “Law Society Gazette” August 2001