• Delay defeats equity or
  • Equity aids the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights or
  • Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights

Vigilantibus non dormientibus aequitas subvenit.
Once the party knows they have been wronged, they must act relatively swiftly to preserve their rights. Otherwise, they are guilty of laches. Laches is a defense to an action in equity. This maxim is often displaced by statutory limitations, but even where a limitation period has not yet run, equity may apply the doctrine of "laches," an equitable term used to describe delay sufficient to defeat an equitable claim. In Chief Young Dede v. African Association Ltd. the equitable rule of laches and acquiescence was introduced.

  • Delay defeats equity
  • Equity aids the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights

· EQUITY – DELAY DEFEATS EQUITY – Where the appellant waited for 16
· years before instituting the action and allowed an innocent third party to acquire
· substantial interest for value. Court Held that Delay defeats equity

1) Delay defeats equity.
If a plaintiff waits too long before claiming it might lead to unfairness to another party.
Leaf v International Galleries (1950)
The plaintiff was sold a painting, which both parties mistakenly believed was a ‘Constable’. However the painting was a fake but the court did not award the equitable remedy of rescission (return of the parties to pre-contractual position) because there had been a delay of 5 years between the contract and the discovery.
Equity delights in equality

Where two persons have an equal right, the property will be divided equally. Thus Equity will presume joint owners to be tenants in common unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise. Equity also favours partition, if requested, of jointly-held property.
This maxim means that equity will not play favorites. For example, a receiver who has been appointed to collect the assets of a business in financial trouble must use the income to pay every creditor an equal share of what is owed to him or her. If a Pension fund loses a large amount of money through poor investment, then everyone who is entitled to benefits must suffer a fair share of the loss. Three adult children of a woman who is killed in an auto accident should share equally in any money that is recovered in a Wrongful Death action if the children are the woman's only surviving close relatives.
A judge will depart from this principle only under compelling circumstances, but the rule applies only to parties who are on an equal footing. If, for example, the woman in an auto accident died leaving three young children, then the money that is recovered might be distributed in proportion to each child's age. A younger child will have lost his or her mother for more years than an older brother or sister. Also, a receiver would have to prefer a secured creditor over those creditors who had no enforceable interest in a particular asset of the company. Unless there is proof that one person in a group is in a special position, the law will assume that each should share equally in proportion to his or her contribution or loss.

One who comes into equity must come with clean hands

It is often stated that one who comes into equity must come with clean hands (or alternately, equity will not permit a party to profit by his own wrong). In other words, if you ask for help about the actions of someone else but have acted wrongly, then you do not have clean hands and you may not receive the help you seek. For example, if you desire your tenant to vacate, you must have not violated the tenant's rights.
However, the requirement of clean hands does not mean that a "bad person" cannot obtain the aid of equity. "Equity does not demand that its suitors shall have led blameless lives." Loughran v. Loughran, 292 U.S. 215, 229 (1934) (Brandeis, J.). The defense of unclean hands only applies if there is a nexus between the applicant's wrongful act and the rights he wishes to enforce.
For instance, in Riggs v. Palmer (1889) 115 N.Y. 506, a man who had killed his grandfather to receive his inheritance more quickly (and for fear that his grandfather may change his will) lost all right(s) to the inheritance.
In D&C Builders v. Rees (1966), a small building firm did some work on the house of a couple named Rees. The bill came to 732 pounds, of which the Rees had already paid 250 pounds. When the builders asked for the balance of 482 pounds, the Rees announced that the work was defective, and they were only prepared to pay 300 pounds. As the builders were in serious financial difficulties (as the Rees knew), they reluctantly accepted the 300 pounds 'in completion of the account'. The decision to accept the money would not normally be binding in contract law, and afterwards the builders sued the Rees for the outstanding amount. The Rees claimed that the court should apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel, which can make promises binding when they would normally not be. However, Lord Denning refused to apply the doctrine, on the grounds that the Rees had taken unfair advantage of the builders' financial difficulties, and therefore had not come 'with clean hands'.
2) He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.’
In other words, an equitable remedy will not be granted to someone who has acted unfairly.
D and C Builders v Rees (1965)
A small building firm had done work for Mr and Mrs Rees. The bill was £732 of which Mr Rees had paid £250 in advance.
When the builders asked for the rest, the Rees’ who knew the builders were in financial difficulty claimed the work had not been done properly and offered only £300. The builders reluctantly accepted but sued afterwards for the remaining £182.
As common law payment of a debt is not considered as satisfying a debt and the builders claimed the extra, equity however, has a doctrine of ‘equitable estoppel’ under which the courts can declare the plaintiff is prevented or ‘estopped’ form claiming the rest. Lord Denning in the court of Appeal refused to apply this doctrine because the Rees’ had taken unfair advantage they had not come to the court with clean hands.
"He who comes into equity must come with clean hands."

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This maxim bars relief for anyone guilty of improper conduct in the matter at hand. It operates to prevent any affirmative recovery for the person with "unclean hands," no matter how unfairly the person's adversary has treated him or her. The maxim is the basis of the clean hands doctrine. Its purpose is to protect the integrity of the court. It does not disapprove only of illegal acts but will deny relief for bad conduct that, as a matter of public policy, ought to be discouraged. A court will ask whether the bad conduct was intentional. This rule is not meant to punish carelessness or a mistake. It is possible that the wrongful conduct is not an act but a failure to act. For example, someone who hires an agent to represent him or her and then sits silently while the agent misleads another party in negotiations is as much responsible for the false statements as if he himself or she herself had made them.
The bad conduct that is condemned by the clean hands doctrine must be a part of the transaction that is the subject of the lawsuit. It is not necessary that it actually have hurt the other party. For example, equity will not relieve a plaintiff who was also trying to evade taxes or defraud creditors with a business deal, even if that person was cheated by the other party in the transaction.
Equity will always decline relief in cases in which both parties have schemed to circumvent the law. In one very old case, a robber filed a bill in equity to force his partner to account for a sum of money. When the real nature of the claim was discovered, the bill was dismissed with costs, and the lawyers were held in Contempt of court for bringing such an action. This famous case has come to be called The Highwayman (Everet v. Williams, Ex. 1725, 9 L.Q. Rev. 197), and judges have been saying ever since that they will not sit to take an account between two robbers.
"Equity follows the law."

Equity does not replace or violate the law, but it backs it up and supplements it. Equity follows appropriate rules of law, such as the rules of evidence and pretrial discovery.
Equity will not allow a remedy that is contrary to law. The court of Chancery never claimed to override the courts of common law. In Story on Equity third English edition 1920 page 34,"where a rule, either of the common or the statute law is direct, and governs the case with all its circumstances, or the particular point, a court of equity is a much bound by it as a court of law, and can as little justify a departure from it." it is only when there is some important circumstance disregarded by the common law rules that equity interferes. As per Cardozo in Graf v. Hope Building Corporation, 254 N.Y 1 at 9 (1930), "Equity works as a supplement for law and does not supersede the prevailing law."