Meaning of Estoppel
Estoppel is a legal bar that disallows a party to say that a certain statement of fact is untrue, whether in reality it is true or not.
Sir Edward Coke has defined estoppel as:
“An estoppel is where a man’s own act or acceptance stoppeth or closeth up his mouth to allege or plead the truth.”
The principle of estoppel is given under sections 115 to 117 of the Indian Evidence Act.
Estoppel is based on the principle of equity. When one person has included the other person by his act, omission or declaration to believe something and the other person had taken some steps on believing that statement, it would be unjust and inequitable to allow the former to deny from his former statement.
It is based on the maxim ‘Allegens contraria non est audiendus‘ which means a person alleging contradictory fact should not be heard.
Rohan leads Sahil to believe that a specific land belongs to him and induces him to buy and pay for it. Later the land becomes Rohan’s property, and he seeks to set aside the sale on the ground that he had no title at the time of sale. He cannot be allowed to set aside the sale.
Applicability of the Doctrine of Estoppel
The doctrine of estoppel is applicable in cases that affect rights. Even though estoppel is described as a rule of evidence but in certain cases, it may have the effect of creating substantive right against the person who is estopped.
Kinds of Estoppel
Generally, estoppel is of four kinds:
Let us discuss all these types of estoppel below.
1. Estoppel by a Matter of Record
It is also known as estoppel by quasi record. A matter of record is something that is part of the record of a court. As proof of its proceedings, estoppel by records results from the judgement of a competent court.
Where the earlier decision is that of a court of record, the resulting estoppel is said to be of record, and where it is of any tribunal, the estoppel is said to be of quasi record.
For example, section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code, section 40 to 43 of the Indian Evidence Act illustrate estoppel by matter of record.
2. Estoppel by Deed
Where a party has agreed by the true construction of the deed, then neither he nor his representatives can deny such facts. It is to be noted that no estoppel shall arise if the deed was obtained by fraud, forgery or other foul practice.
3. Estoppel in Pais
It is also known as estoppel by conduct. When one has either by words or conduct made to another representation of fact:
- either with knowledge of his falsehood, or
- with the intention that it should be acted upon, or
- has so conducted himself,
that another reasonable man understands that a certain representation of fact was intended to be acted on and that the other has acted on representation and thereby altered his positions to his prejudice, estoppel arises against the part which made the representation.
4. Estoppel That Arises by Way of Election
When a party makes a selection between two inconsistent legal rights, i.e. choosing one right and abandoning the other; by this law, a person may be precluded from asserting a legal right to which he would have otherwise had.
Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act
Section 115 of the Evidence Act states that when one person has by his declaration act or omission intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his representatives shall be allowed in any suit or proceeding to deny the truth of that thing.
Essential Elements of Estoppel
To invoke the doctrine of estoppel, the following conditions must be satisfied:
1. There must be two parties, one party making representation to another party.
2. The other shall have acted upon such representation.
3. Relying on such representation, there must have been a change in the position of a party.
The doctrine of estoppel is based on the law laid down in ‘Pickard vs Sears, 1839’ in which Lord Chief Justice Denham observed:
“Where one by his word or conduct willfully induces another to believe the existence of a certain state of a thing and induced him to act on that belief to alter his previous position, the former is concluded from averting against the latter a different state of things as existing at the first time.”
Limitations of Estoppel
Following are the limitation of estoppel:
1. Estoppel is not enforceable against substantive law.
2. Estoppel is not enforceable against the sovereign, legislative or executive act of the state.
3. Where both the parties are aware of the truth, in that case, the parties cannot avail the rule of estoppel.
4. No estoppel against a minor.
It is also known as new estoppel, quasi estoppel, and requisite estoppel.
There is no statutory definition of promissory estoppel.
When one person, by his words or conduct, has made to the other a promise or assurance which was intended to affect the legal relationship between them; the other party had believed it and acted upon such promise; the party that gave the promise cannot be allowed to revert to previous legal relations as if he made no promise.
Scope and Object of Promissory Estoppel
The doctrine of promissory estoppel has been evolved by the courts on the principles of equity to avoid injustice.
In ACE Union of India vs GB Bhirede (1971), the Bombay High Court stated that before invoking the doctrine of promissory estoppel, it must be proved that:
1. There was a representation or promise regarding something to be done in future.
2. The representation or promise was intended to affect the legal relations.
3. It is one on which the other side has acted to its prejudice.
Specific Instances of Estoppel
Section 116 of the Evidence Act deals with estoppel between:
1. a tenant and his landlord
2. licensee and licensor
A tenant cannot deny the title of landlord.
The right of the landlord cannot be disputed by his tenant by altering the character of his possession and cannot be made adverse by going to another person and paying rent to him.
The same applies between the licensee and licensor. The licensee ought not to deny the title of the licensor.
Section 117 of the Evidence Act deals with estoppel of a bill of exchange, bailee or licensee.
Admissions as Estoppel
According to section 31 of the Indian Evidence Act, admissions are not conclusive proof but may estop. Admissions have been dealt with under sections 17 to 23 of the Evidence Act. They are not conclusive proof of the facts admitted as in the case of judicial admissions, but they may operate as estoppels under sections 115 to 117 of the Evidence Act.
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