Common Law system

Equity is the law of ‘fairness’ from the Latin, aequitas which means levelling. Its purpose is to deal with situations not prescribed for by the rigidity of the Common Law system. Today, all the civil courts are empowered to administer both Common Law and Equity. It must, however, be noted that Equity supplements and does not supplant the Common Law.

The distinction between a situation ‘at law’ i.e. within the Common Law, and ‘in Equity’ is still important because Equity will only be applied where, in the court’s discretion and having regard to all the circumstances of the case, it is fair to do so. In this way Equity supplements the Common Law.

If, however, the court considers that Equity is not applicable, then the Common Law principles governing the situation will apply – hence Equity does not supplant the Common Law. The maxim ‘he who comes to Equity must come with clean hands’ illustrates that one who has acted unfairly towards the other party will not be assisted by Equity against that other party.