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Equity is the name given to the set of legal principles, in jurisdictions following the English common law tradition, that supplement strict rules of law where their application would operate harshly. In civil legal systems, broad "general clauses" allow judges to have similar leeway in applying the code.


  • Equity is as long as the chancellor's foot.
    • Reported as an "old maxim" in the Journal of the District of Columbia Bar Association: Volume 7 (1940).
  • He who seeks equity must do equity.

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 79-85.
  • A Court of equity ought to follow the law.
    • Kindersley, V.-C, Wynch v. Grant (1854), 3 W. R. 6.
  • Equity and common law are two distinct systems, unlike any existing in any foreign country.
    • Lopes, L.J., In re Henderson (1887), L. J. Rep. (N. S.) 57 C. D. 383.
  • Whilom there was dwellyng in my countre,
    An erchedeken, a man of great degre,
    That boldely did execucioun,
    In punyschyng of fornicacioun,
    Of wicchecraft, and eek of bauderye,
    Of diffamacioun, and avoutrie,
    Of chirche—reves, and of testamentes,
    Of contractus, and of lak of sacraments,
    And eek of many another maner cryme,
    Which needith not to reherse at this tyme.
    • Æqnitas sequitur legem, describing the jurisdiction exercised by the archdeacon.
  • Equity is no part of the law, but a moral virtue, which qualifies, moderates, and reforms the rigor, hardness and edge of the law, and is a universal truth. It does also assist the law, where it is defective and weak in the constitution (which is the life of the law), and defends the law from crafty evasions, delusions and mere subtleties, invented and contrived to evade and elude the common law, whereby such as have undoubted right are made remediless. And thus is the office of equity to protect and support the common law from shifts and contrivances against the justice of the law. Equity, therefore, does not destroy the law, nor create it, but assists it.
    • Sir John, Trevor, M.R. Dudley v. Dudley, Preced. in Ch. 241, 244; 1 Wooddeson, Lect. VII. 192; 1 Story, Eq. Jur. 13.
  • Lex aliquando sequitur cequitatein: Law sometimes follows equity.
    • 3 Wilt. 119.
  • All nations have equity. But some have law and equity mixed in the same Court, which is worse; and some have it distinguished in several Courts, which is better.
    • Lord Bacon, 4 Bac. Works, 274.
  • I do not think that Courts of equity ought to go otherwise than the Courts of law.
    • Talbot, L.C., Lord Glenorchy v. Bosville (1733), W. & T. Leading Cas. in Eq. 16.
  • Equity will go no further than the law.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Tooke v. Hollingworth (1793), 5 T. R. 225.
  • It is true that Courts of equity, in administering justice, sometimes go further than the Courts of law.
  • A Court of equity can mould interests differently from a Court of law; and can give relief in cases where a Court of law cannot.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Clayton v. Adams (1796), 6 T. R. 605.
  • Courts of equity make their decrees so as to arrive at the justice of the case without violating the rules of law.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Clayton v. Adams (1796), 6 T. R. 605.
  • Nor doth the law of the land speak against him. But that and equity ought to join hand in hand, in moderating and restraining all extremities and hardships. . . . They both aim at one and the same end, which is, to do right.
    • Lord Ellesrwre, Earl of Oxford's Case (1616), Rep. in Ch. 3, 4.
  • The course of equity is a part of the constitution of the law and judicial proceedings in this kingdom.
    • Lord Hardwicke, Garth v. Cotton (1750), 1 Ves. 524.
  • It appears to me to be the duty of every Court, whether a Court of equity or a Court of law, to give effect to the plain meaning of the Legislature, whatever may be the views entertained of its policy or applicability in particular cases.
    • Sir W. M. James, V.-C, Daun v. City of London Brewery Co. (1869), L. R. 8 Eq. Ca. 161.
  • The Chancellor hath power to moderate and temper the written law, and subjecteth himself only to the law of nature and reason.
    • Dr. Samuel Johnson.
  • Law, without equity, though hard and disagreeable, is much more desirable for the public good, than equity without law.
    • Sir Wm. Blackstone (1765), Com. Bk. L, sec. 2, p. 41.
  • A Judge ought to prepare his way to a just sentence, as God useth to prepare his way, by raising valleys and taking down hills: so when there appeareth on either side a high hand, violent prosecution, cunning advantages taken, combination, power, great counsel, then is the virtue of a Judge seen to make inequality equal; that he may plant his judgment as upon even ground.
    • Bacon, " Essay on Judicature".
  • A Court of equity knows its own province.
    • Lord Kenyon, Mayor, &c. of Southampton v. Graves (1800), 8 T. R. 592.
  • A party who seeks equity must do equity.
    • Cottenham, L.C., Sturgis v. Champneys (1839), 5 My. & Cr. 105.
  • I do not pretend to dispense equity at large, but only by the consent of the parties, upon a rule of Court.
    • Holt, C.J., Anonymous (1699), 3 Salk. 213.
  • Courts of equity in ancient times, were more in the habit of taking to themselves the decision of questions of fact than they have thought wise and discreet in later times. All the Judges have demonstrated their opinion, to send the question of fact to a jury, where any reasonable doubt is raised; and I cannot suppose there is any prejudice in a tribunal appointed according to the constitution of the country to try the fact.
    • Lord Eldon, O'Connor v. Cooke (1803), 8 Ves. 576.
  • Courts of equity have always considered it of the greatest possible importance that parties should not sleep on their rights.
    • Sir John Romilly, M.R., Browne v. Cross (1852), 14 Beav. 113.
  • We ought not to interpose in a matter which seems peculiarly to belong to the jurisdiction of a Court of equity.
    • Abbott, C.J., Davey v. Prendergrass (1821), 2 Chit. Rep. 340.
  • We are now Courts of equity, and must decide the thing according to all the rights.
  • I have always thought that formerly there was too confined a way of thinking in the Judges of the common law Courts, and that Courts of equity have risen by the Judges not properly applying the principles of the common law, being too narrowly governed by old cases and maxims, which have too much prevented the public from having the benefit of the common law.
    • Wilmot, L.C.J., Collins v. Blantern (1767), 2 Wils. 341.
  • Equity in its true and genuine meaning, is the soul and spirit of all law; positive law is construed, and rational law is made, by it. In this, equity is synonymous to justice; in that, to the true sense and sound interpretation of the rule.
    • Blackstone Comm.Bk. III.,c. 17, p. 222.
  • I cannot agree that the doctrines of this Court are to be changed with every succeeding Judge. Nothing would inflict on me greater pain in quitting this place, than the recollection that I had done anything to justify the reproach that the equity of this Court varies like the Chancellor's foot.
    • Eldon, L.C., Gee v. Pritchard (1818), 2 Swanston, 414.
  • It must not be forgotten that the rules of Courts of equity are not, like the rules of the common law, supposed to have been established from time immemorial. It is perfectly well known that they have been established from time to time—altered, improved, and refined from time to time. In many cases we know the names of the Chancellors who invented them. No doubt they were invented for the purpose of securing the better administration of justice, but still they were invented. Take such things as these: the separate use of a married woman, the restraint on alienation, the modern rule against perpetuities, and the rules of equitable waste. We can name the Chancellors who first invented them, and state the date when they were first introduced into Equity jurisprudence; and therefore, in cases of this kind, the older precedents in equity are of little value. The doctrines are progressive, refined, and improved; and if we want to know what the rules of Equity are, we must look, of course, rather to the more modern than the more ancient cases.
    • Jessel, M.R., In re Hallett's Estate; Knatchbull v. Hallett (1879), L. R. 13 C. D. 710.
  • "Equity is a roguish thing : for law we have a measure ; know what to trust to. Equity is according to the conscience of him that is Chancellor; and, as that is larger or narrower, so is equity. 'Tis all one, as if they should make his foot the standard for the measure we call a foot 'a Chancellor's foot'; what an uncertain measure would this be! One Chancellor has a long foot. another a short foot, a third an indifferent foot; 'tis the same thing in the Chancellor's conscience.
    • Selden, "Table Talk," title: Equity, p. 37.
  • This Court should determine upon broad principles which will meet the common sense of mankind.
    • Kenyon, M.R., Stebbing v. Walkey (1786), 1 Cox, Eq. Ca. 252.
  • A Court of equity may do great things, but cannot alter things, or make them to operate contrary to their essential natures and properties.
    • Powel, B., Montague v. Lord Bath (1693), 3 Ca. in Ch. 67.
  • A man must come into a Court of equity with clean hands.
    • Eyre, L.C.B., Dering v. Earl of Winchelsea (1787), 1 Cox, Eq. Ca. 319.
  • It is a rule that those who come into a Court of justice to seek redress, must come with clean hands, and must disclose a transaction warranted by law.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Petrie v. Hannay (1789), 3 T. R. 422.
  • When any one comes into a Court of equity to ask that which would not be granted in a Court of law, that person must come into Court with clean hands.
    • Kay, L.J., Roberts v. Cooper (1891), 60 L. J. Rep. (N. S.) C. D. 381.
  • In this case the plaintiff does not come into Court with clean hands; he alleges his own turpitude, and is indictable for his fraud.
    • Giles Rooke, J., Farmer v. Russell (1798), 2 Bos. & Pull. 301.
  • The strict primary decree of this Court, as a Court of equity, is in personam.
    • Lord Hardwicke, Penn v. Lord Baltimore (1750), 1 Ves. 444.
  • The paternal jurisdiction of Courts of equity.
    • Kay, J., Mainland v. Upjohn (1889), 58 L. J. Rep. (N. S.) C. D. 363.
  • Though proceedings in equity are said to be seeundem discretkmem boni viri, yet when it is asked, "Vir bonus est quis?" the answer is, "Qui consulta patrum, qui leges juraque servat."
    • Sir Joseph Jekyll, Cowper v. Cowper (1735), 2 P. Will. 753.
  • When this is said, it does not mean a general depravity; it must have an immediate and necessary relation to the equity sued for ; it must be a depravity in a legal, as well as in a moral sense.
    • Selden, "Table Talk," title: Equity, p. 37. See also Snell's "Prin. of Equity", 39; Story, Eq. Jur. (12th ed.) 58.
  • He has been emphatically called 'the father of equity.'"
    • Sir W. Blackstone (1765), Com. Bk. III., Ch. 4, p. 55, on Lord Nottingham.
  • A Court of equity interposes only according to conscience.
    • Lord St. Leonards, Birch v. Joy (1851), 3 H. L. C. 598.
  • A Court of equity which is never active in relief against conscience, or public convenience, has always refused its aid to stale demands where the party has slept upon his right, and acquiesced for a great length of time. Nothing can call forth this Court into activity, but conscience, good faith and reasonable diligence; where these are wanting, the Court is passive and does nothing.
    • Lord Camden, Smith v. Clay (1767), 3 Bro. Ch. Ca. 639 n.
  • It is the constant practice of Courts of equity to discourage stale demands.
    • Sir Thomas Plumer, M.R., Att.-Gen. v. Mayor of Exeter (1822), Jacob's Rep. 448.
  • Altho' the surety is not troubled or molested for the debt, yet at any time after the money becomes payable on the original bond, this Court will decree the principal to discharge the debt; it being unreasonable that a man shall always have such a cloud hang over him.
    • Lord Keeper North, Kanelaugh v. Hayes (1683), 1 Vern. 189, 190; this illustrates the exclusive coercive jurisdiction of equity in cases where it is against conscience to permit a passive state of things to continue.
  • Confederacies and combinations are very proper heads of relief.
    • Lord Hardwicke, Worthington v. Foxhall (1750), Barnardiston's Rep. 263.
  • II est fort equitable et de publique convenience que gens ferront aide en recovery de lour duties (It is very agreeable to Equity, and of public convenience, that people should be aided in recovering their duties).
    • Vaughan, C.J., Witherhead v. Harrison (1670), Jones's (Sir Thos.) Rep. 2.
  • It is not the function of a Court of justice to enforce or give effect to moral obligations which do not carry with them legal or equitable rights.
    • Lord Macnaghten‎, Blackburn, Low & Co. v. Vigors (1887), L. R. 12 Ap. Ca. 543.
  • It would not be correct to say that every moral obligation involves a legal duty; but every legal duty is founded on a moral obligation.
  • All laws stand on the best and broadest basis which go to enforce moral and social duties.
    • Lord Kenyon, C.J., Pasley v. Freeman (1789), 3 T. R. 51.

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