By -


  • Proprietary estoppel operates as a ‘sword’ to enable a person, to whom a promise or an ‘assurance’ is given, to seek positive relief to enforce the assurance.
  • Proprietary estoppel applies to any property including chattels, choses in action and can apply to any land.
  • Proprietary estoppel may be applicable where the assurance involves testamentary dispositions as well as inter vivos dispositions.

Proprietary estoppel is an old concept with a name devised in reasonably recent times to describe a cause of action which has increasingly common application. ‘Proprietary estoppel’ was first referred to in the decision E R Ives Investment Ltd v High [1967] 2 QB 379. The Court adopted the then newly coined description of the legal principle in the text, Snell’s The Principles of Equity, (Sweet & Maxwell Ltd, 26th ed, 1966). The origins of proprietary estoppel can be traced to Dillwyn v Llewellyn (1862) 45 ER 1285 (‘Dillwyn v Llewelyn’), Ramsden v Dyson (1866) LR 1 HL 129 (‘Ramsden v Dyson’) and Plimmer v Wellington Corporation (1884) 9 App Cas 699.

Unusually for an estoppel, proprietary estoppel is not a legal principle that is deployed to achieve a negative, defensive position like a ‘shield’. Proprietary estoppel operates as a ‘sword’ enabling the person to whom an assurance is given (the ‘promisee’), to seek positive relief to enforce the assurance (Shymko v Lach [2022] NSWSC 1096 at [556]).

Proprietary estoppel applies to any property, including chattels and choses in action (Cobbe v Yeoman’s Row Management Ltd [2008] UKHL 55). It usually arises in the context of land. It can be any land, such as a house (McNab v Graham [2017] VSCA 352 (‘McNab’),  Moore v Aubusson [2020] NSWSC 1466 and Ceko v Ceko [2023] SASC 91 (‘Ceko’)). Proprietary estoppel is most likely to arise in relation to farm land (Guest v Guest [2022] UKSC 27 (‘Guest’), Laird v Vallance [2023] VSCA 138 (‘Laird), Protheroe v Protheroe [2023] NSWSC 188 (‘Protheroe)) .

The principles of proprietary estoppel apply in circumstances where the assurance concerns testamentary dispositions as well as inter vivos dispositions (Flinn v Flinn [1999] VSCA 109, Delaforce v Simpson-Cook [2010] NSWCA 84) (‘Delaforce’).

You've reached the end of this article preview

There's more to read! Subscribe to LSJ today to access the rest of our updates, articles and multimedia content.

Subscribe to LSJ

Already an LSJ subscriber or Law Society member? Sign in to read the rest of the article.

Sign in to read more