DOCTRINE OF ESTOPPEL, PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL-INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT, 1872
Apparently, the word estoppel originated from an ancient English word “estop”. The doctrine of estoppel comes with a sense of negativity. The object of estoppel is basically to prevent an unjust departure by one person from an assumption adopted by another as the basis of some act or omission which would operate to other’s detriment.
In India, Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 lays down the principle of estoppel as a rule of evidence. According to the said doctrine, the parties to the proceeding are prohibited from proving certain facts.
As a rule of evidence, the doctrine of estoppel as laid down in Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, owes its origin from the law in England. In the case of Pickward v. Sears, it was the willful conduct of the promisor that attracted the rule of estoppel whereas Section 115 employed the word “intentionally” rather than “willfully”.
Estoppel: A mere rule of evidence or a rule of substantive law?
The time since the doctrine of estoppel has been evolved and applied by the courts; it has always been in question whether the said doctrine is a rule of evidence or a rule of substantive law.
Conflicting opinions of jurists on this aspect came up such as Taylor and Stephen are of the view that the rule of estoppel is a part of adjective law of evidence whereas a number of other eminent jurists like Phipson, Cross and Nokes are of the opinion that the rule of estoppel belongs to substantive rather than adjective law.
There is no doubt that the doctrine of estoppel is based upon equity and good conscience, is intended to secure justice between the parties by the promotion of honesty and good faith. The object of this rule is to prevent fraud or manifest injustice.
The said doctrine is applied in civil actions. It has no application in criminal proceedings except in few cases where the principle of “issue estoppel” may become applicable. Being a rule of equity, the rule creates only a right in personam and a substantive right in rem.
Doctrine of Estoppel:
The doctrine of estoppel as defined under Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872:
“When one person has, by his affirmation, act or omission, purposefully caused or allowed another person to believe a thing to be true and to follow up on such conviction, neither he nor his agent or representative shall be permitted, in any suit or proceeding between himself and such person or his agent or representative, to preclude reality from claiming that thing.”
Illustration: A intentionally and dishonestly persuades B to believe that certain land belongs to A and in this way instigates B to purchase and pay for it. After a period of time, the land becomes the property of A and A seeks to set aside the sale on the ground that, at the time of sale, he had no title. He must not be permitted to prove his need of the title.
In a conclusive sense, the law of estoppel is the rule of exclusion of certain evidences under certain circumstances in the court of law, thus, it can be said that estoppel is a procedure of proof.
The scope of Doctrine of Estoppel:
Appearing initially as a negative aspect, the principle of estoppel is an equitable doctrine evolved to avoid injustice.
However, unlikely England where this rule is applied by the courts of equity as a rule of equity, it is a rule of evidence in India.
In the case of Chhaganla Mehta vs. Haribhai Patel, the Supreme Court discussed the scope of the rule of estoppel and laid down that certain conditions must be satisfied in order to bring a case within the purview of this doctrine. These conditions are:
- A representation must have been made by a person or by his representative or his agent to another person in any form i.e. a declaration or an act or an omission.
- Such representation made by a person or by his authorized agent must relate to the existence of facts instead of future intentions.
- The representation must have been intended to have been depended upon.
- There must have been belief rather than conviction on the part of another person in its truth.
- There must have been some action on the belief of that affirmation, act or omission. In other words, such declaration, act or omission must have made another person to act on the belief of it, and to change his position to his either biased or burden one.
- The misrepresentation made by a party must have been the immediate cause of leading the other party to act to his biasness.
- The person must prove that he was not aware of the true nature of things to claim the benefit of an estoppel. Otherwise, such person cannot claim the benefit of an estoppel to the contrary.
- Person to whom representation was made can claim the benefit of this doctrine. A stranger cannot be a party claiming the benefit of this doctrine.
The doctrine of Estoppel and Promissory Estoppel:
These two concepts may seem similar however the concept of promissory estoppel differs from the concept of estoppel. The doctrine of estoppel relates to the representation of existing fact, on the other hand, the doctrine of promissory estoppel relates to the representation of future intentions.
Classes of Estoppel in the Law of Evidence:
There are four classes of estoppel incorporated under the purview of Sections 116 and 117 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. There are:
Estoppel of Tenant
The rule of estoppel of a tenant is incorporated under Section 116 of the Indian Evidence Act as:
No tenant of immovable property or person claiming through such tenant, shall, during the continuance of the tenancy, be permitted to deny that the landlord of such tenant had, at the beginning of the tenancy, a title to such immovable property.
The rule of estoppel is generally recognized that a tenant is estopped, while the tenancy continues, to deny the title of his landlord.
In the case of Kuldeep Singh vs. Shrimati Balwant Kaur, the Supreme Court held that the tenancy right is not extinguished when the tenant has become wealthy of the property which was let out to him under the sale deed registered prior to one registered in favor of other, denied by him of relationship of tenant and landlord between him and subsequent vendor.
Estoppel of Licensee of a person in possession
The rule of estoppel of the licensee of a person in possession is also incorporated under Section 116 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 as:
A person who happened upon any immovable property by the license of the person in possession shall not be allowed to deny that such person had a title to such ownership at the time when such license was given.
The acceptor of a bill of exchange
An acceptor of a bill of exchange shall not be permitted to deny that the drawer had the authority to draw such bill or to endorse it.
Clarification is given under Section 117 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that the acceptor of a bill of exchange may deny that the bill was drawn by the person by whom it indicates to have been drawn.
Estoppel of Bailee or licensee
A bailee or licensee shall not be permitted to deny that his bailor or licensor had commenced authority to make such bailment or grant such license at the time with the bailment or license.
Notwithstanding, if a bailee conveys the goods bailed to a person other than the bailor, they may approve that such person had a privilege to them as against the bailor.
General Conditions of Estoppel
- An estoppel must be one where it binds both parties to the litigation which means that an estoppel must be reciprocal or mutual.
- Estoppels cannot circumvent the law.
- An estoppel must be clear and certain.
- Estoppel against estoppel leads to the matter at large. There must not be conflicting estoppels.
The principle of estoppel is a rule which prevents a person from taking up the conflicting position from what he has argued or attested before.
The principle of estoppel is based on equity and good conscience as the object of this doctrine is clearly to prevent fraud. Estoppel is only a rule of law and it doesn’t give rise to a cause of action. Estoppels have additionally been compared to solemn admissions and decisive proof.
Formal admissions, conclusive evidence, and estoppels have the basic elements of affecting the admissibility of evidence.
It is clear and conclusive that the representation can be in any form either by words or conduct and such representation must be clear, certain and unambiguous.
It can be noted that silence can be deemed as representation where the one’s duty is to speak or in cases where the duty of care has arisen.
Considering the role being played by the courts is significant in the transformation of the doctrine of estoppel.
Setting aside the debate on whether it is a rule of evidence law or a rule of substantive law, the courts helped in transforming this rule from a mere rule of evidence to a rule of substantive law.
Application of this rule is necessary to prevent fraud or manifest injustice as well as the preservation of individual rights.
Though, in my opinion, sometimes while deciding whether the conduct of a person amounts to estoppel could travel beyond the provisions of Indian Evidence Act, 1872 to equitable estoppel.