Proprietary estoppel. Detriment: balancing advantages and disadvantages. Proportionality of relief.

In Henry v Henry ([2010] UKPC 3, PC) G owned a half share in a plot of land. She promised C, her grandson, that he would inherit the property if he cultivated it and looked after her until she died. He satisfied these conditions. C, however, sold the property to T. C claimed to be entitled to the half share on the grounds of proprietary estoppel. The Privy Council looked at whether there had been detrimental reliance (more than simple reliance). C had, it is true, benefited substantially from the arrangement during G’s lifetime (rent-free accommodation and living off the produce of the land). The court had, however, to look at whether there had also been detriment and to conduct a balancing exercise ([53]). This would lead the court in the present case to acknowledge that C had given up opportunities to better his life elsewhere and this outweighed the benefits ([61] – [62]). The claim was made out as against G.

The resulting equity was capable, in principle, of binding a successor such as T (a fact that was confirmed by section 28 of the Land Registration Act (St Lucia)). It was open to T to argue that there was nothing on the facts of the case to make it unconscionable for her to ignore C’s claim but she had not done so.

Proportionality is a relevant factor when granting the relief: ‘Proportionality lies at the heart of the doctrine of proprietary estoppel and permeates its every application.’ ([65] Sir Jonathan Parker) and so C should not get all of G’s half share in the plot but only half of that ([66]).

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