Layton v Martin [1986]

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Last modified: 12/10/18 Author: In-house law team

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Layton v Martin [1986] 2 FLR 227



The defendant represented to the claimant (his mistress) that she would have ‘financial security’ after his death. After the defendant died without leaving any property to the claimant in his will, the claimant claimed that she had a proprietary interest in the defendant’s land, arising out of his assurances that she would be supported, due to proprietary estoppel.


A person will have an inchoate ‘equity’ in land if they can establish proprietary estoppel. Establishing this requires proof that the land-owner made an unequivocal representation that they had a proprietary interest, which they relied on to their detriment such that it would be unconscionable to renege on the representation. The inchoate equity that results from proprietary estoppel can be satisfied by the court using whatever remedy would do the minimum amount of justice in the case.

The issue in this case was the degree of certainty which was required as to the proprietary interest the defendant believed herself to be entitled to.


The court held in the defendant’s favour: there was no proprietary estoppel.

The court held that to be sufficiently clear, the representation must relate to (though it need not explicitly name with legal precision) a specific type of interest in property (such as a lease, ownership and so on). A general representation that the claimant will be supported in the abstract does not relate to a specific proprietary interest, and so is not capable of giving rise to a proprietary estoppel.

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