John Cartwright

This topic presents something of a difficulty in English contract law, but its real interest—both for the domestic English lawyer and for the comparative lawyer—lies in this difficulty. For at first sight there is a very short and simple answer to the question ‘what part is played by the concepts of legitimate expectations and estoppel in the English law of contract?’: it is very limited. The judges do not commonly use the language of ‘legitimate expectations’ in the context of the private law of contract. It is not a phrase that appears in the index to most of the leading English contract law textbooks. And although ‘promissory estoppel’ and certain other forms of estoppel are placed firmly in the index to contract law, the relevant chapters of each of the books then make clear that it has a relatively limited role.

This is not, however, the end of the story. Once we have understood the role played by the (literal) concepts of legitimate expectations or estoppel in English law generally, and in the English law of contract in particular, we can see that the underlying principles or ideas behind these concepts can indeed be found in the law of contract, although under different names and using a different language of description—within the precontractual stage; the rules for finding an agreement between the parties, or for justifying the enforcement of the parties’ promises; formalities, agency and third-party rights; interpretation and rectification of contracts; and remedies for breach of contract.

Cite as: John Cartwright, Protecting Legitimate Expectations and Estoppel in English Law, vol 10.3 ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW, (December 2006), <http://www.ejcl.org/103/art103-6.pdf>.

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