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Issue Estoppel

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Estoppel is a long-established doctrine of English law that literally means to stop. Generally estoppel prevents a person who causes another to rely upon acts or words from later denying those acts or words.

Issue Estoppel refers to circumstances where a particular point has been put in issue in proceedings and decided upon in those proceedings in a particular way. It prevents a party from seeking to litigate the same point in later proceedings if that point has been decided in a judicial decision and is final.

Issue estoppel can arise in relation to points of fact or points of law as long as the point that a party (or their privy) is seeking to litigate has already be conclusively decided.

Conditions for Issue Estoppel

If the decision in relation to an issue is shown to be final then there are additional conditions that must also be satisfied in order for Issue Estoppel to apply:

  1. The issue raised is the same in both proceedings; and
  2. The parties to the judicial decision are the same as the parties or privies to the proceedings in which the estoppel is raised.

If a party raises estoppel in relation to an issue he can have the matter dealt with at trial or attempt to have the plea struck out. The question of whether the issue is the same is decided by the court in light of all the circumstances of the case.

Limitations of Issue Estoppel

Issue Estoppel applies in most areas of private civil law but there are limitations to its application which generally arise from matters of public interest.

It is for this reason that the principles of Issue Estoppel do not apply to certain aspects of family law such as child care cases. Nor do they do not apply in criminal proceedings.

In respect of public law it is questionable as to whether Issue Estoppel applies to judicial review due to the inherent public interest that is present in public law cases. If for example a public body failed to present all the relevant facts in a case, it is likely that it would be considered unfairly prejudicial to the public interest to estop issues from being reconsidered.

Estoppel based on default judgements must be carefully limited such that only a defence that was decided under the previous judgement can be estopped. The Overriding Objective of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 requires that cases are dealt with justly.

The application of the doctrine of estoppel is technical by its nature. Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can offer you advice regarding this and related issues. If you would like more information please contact James Crighton via e-mail jcrighton@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.