Equity is the means by which English law achieves fair outcomes in situations in which the formal rules of statute or the common law would otherwise be unfair. More precisely, equity is concerned with ensuring good ‘conscience’. At one level, that is a perfectly accurate summary of the original purpose and role of equity within English law. However, equity’s offspring over the centuries have frequently developed to such an extent that they exhibit some of the characteristics of idealised common law doctrines: such as rigidity and a tight observance of precedent. The best example of this tendency is the express trust (discussed in Chapters 4, 5 and 6) because express trusts are predicated on requirements of ‘certainty’, rules governing their perpetuity, and the minimum requirements of the rights of beneficiaries before an express trust may be valid. Nevertheless, there are still many equitable doctrines which appear to operate on very general principles which give ostensibly wide discretion to judges: such as constructive trusts, proprietary estoppel, injunctions and so forth.
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