• It was held by the High Court in this case that proprietary estoppel was not limited to acts done in reliance on a belief that future rights could be raised in relation to the rights over an estate. Therefore, proprietary estoppel does not require the previous enjoyment of the property in question.

Facts of the case:

  • C assisted her mother and her stepfather with the running of their business. She was never paid for it, but it was understood that she would inherit her stepfather’s property when he died.
  • C also assisted the stepfather insofar as providing him meals when he was in ill health, bought carpets for his house. The stepfather told C that she would lose nothing by doing those acts for him.
  • The stepfather died intestate, and C claimed that she was entitled to the absolute and beneficial interest in the deceased’s house and furniture and other property.

Issues in Re Basham [1987]

  • Whether the fact that C had no existing rights in the property was fatal to her claim of proprietary estoppel

High Court held:

  • The claimant was successful. Prior enjoyment is not required to establish proprietary estoppel.
  • Proprietary estoppel ‘extended to rights done in reliance on a belief that future rights would be granted’.

Mr Edward Nugee QC (sitting as High Court judge)

  • [1504] “In cases of proprietary estoppel the factor which gives rise to the equitable obligation is A’s alteration of his position on the faith of a similar understanding.”
  • [1508] “Mr. Browne however, submitted that there are two reasons why the plaintiff is not entitled to rely on proprietary estoppel in the present case. His main submission was that the representation or belief on which a plaintiff, A in the foregoing statement of principle, relies must be related to an existing right; that is to say, unless there is a representation that A has a present right or interest, equity cannot intervene because there is nothing which equity can protect or make effective by the operation of an estoppel.”
  • [1509] “Nor in my judgment is it necessary, notwithstanding the terms of such statements of principle, that A should have been in occupation of B’s land, or even in enjoyment of some right over it… [1310] If proprietary estoppel were limited to cases in which A believed that he already had an interest in B’s property, such a requirement might make more sense.”