'Clean Hands' or 'Kinship Trusts?' Detrimental Reliance and Familial Promises in Northern Ireland's Chancery Division
Trusts & Trustees, 2011
14 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2015
Date Written: July 1, 2011
Recent N. Ireland case law contains useful discourse on the nature of detrimental reliance within the context of familial promises, particularly in respect of whether estoppel-based remedies are capable of ‘satisfying the equities’ that may have arisen in each situation. A wide variety of factors seem to have perhaps influenced judicial opinion and prompted forward-looking and far-reaching remedial approaches. Matters such as the conjectured loss of career prospects or marriage opportunities, a conspiracy of malign, avaricious silence by long distance siblings or the controlling actions of a disgruntled patriarch, all merited lengthy discussions and fairly detailed narrative histories. Bad behaviour by family members has also, arguably, enabled the Chancery Court to attach considerable weight to the traditional, supportive duties of kinship. Where, for example, wealthier family members have failed to provide for vulnerable relatives, the Court has not hesitated to highlight this fact, often via reference to highly comprehensive personal histories that might span decades. This focus on familial obligation possibly adds a new dimension to a classic equitable maxim; the hands of prodigal claimants must not only be 'conscionably clean’, but perhaps also engaged in some useful activity aimed at preserving either the welfare of family members or the material value of the property in question. By ‘filling in the blanks’ in this way, the Courts remind us that although the remedies granted may appear to bring financial recompense (via creation of a life interest, or a fee simple absolute) they almost invariably fail to alleviate the more difficult circumstances underpinning the plaintiff’s family life. Remedies perhaps reflect a judicial desire to admonish those defendants who were engaged in bad behaviour such as dishonesty, cruelty, blatant misogyny or excessively controlling patriarchy.
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