Legal Blog: Doctrine of Election : The Law

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Doctrine of Election : The Law

Justice A.K. Ganguly
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in a recent decision, in Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd. Vs. Golden Chariot Airport, has briefly examined the 'Doctrine of Election' and the common law doctrine of prohibiting 'approbation' and 'reprobation' as enshrined in the latin maxim qui approbat non reprobat (one who approbates cannot reprobate). The relevant extracts from the judgment are reproduced hereinbelow;

53. Now the question is whether the contesting respondent on a complete volte-face of its previous stand can urge its case of irrevocable licence before the Estate Officer and now before this Court? 

54. The answer has to be firmly in the negative. Is an action at law a game of chess? Can a litigant change and choose its stand to suit its convenience and prolong a civil litigation on such prevaricated pleas? 

55. The common law doctrine prohibiting approbation and reprobation is a facet of the law of estoppel and well established in our jurisprudence also. 

56. The doctrine of election was discussed by Lord Blackburn in the decision of the House of Lords in Benjamin Scarf vs. Alfred George Jardine [(1881-82) 7 Appeal Cases 345], wherein the learned Lord formulated "...a party in his own mind has thought that he would choose one of two remedies, even though he has written it down on a memorandum or has indicated it in some other way, that alone will not bind him; but so soon as he has not only determined to follow one of his remedies but has communicated it to the other side in such a way as to lead the opposite party to believe that he has made that choice, he has completed his election and can go no further; and whether he intended it or not, if he has done an unequivocal act...the fact of his having done that unequivocal act to the knowledge of the persons concerned is an election." 

57. In Tinkler vs. Hilder (1849) 4 Exch 187, Parke, B., stated that where a party had received a benefit under an Order, it could not claim that it was valid for one purpose and invalid for another. (See page 190) 

58. In Clough vs. London and North Western Rail Co. [(1861-73) All ER, Reprint, 646] the Court referred to Comyn's Digest, wherein it has been stated:- 
"If a man once determines his election, it shall be determined forever." In the said case, the question was whether in a contract of fraud, whether the person on whom the fraud was practiced had elected to avoid the contract or not. The Court held that as long as such party made no election, it retained the right to determine it either way, subject to the fact that an innocent third party must not have acquired an interest in the property while the former party is deliberating. If a third party has acquired such an interest, the party who was deliberating will lose its right to rescind the contract. Once such party makes its election, it is bound to its election forever. (See page 652) 
59. In Harrison vs. Wells, 1966 (3) All ER 524, Salmon LJ, in the Court of Appeal, observed that the rule of estoppel was founded on the well-known principle that one cannot approbate and reprobate. The doctrine was further explained by Lord Justice Salmon by holding "it is founded also on this consideration, that it would be unjust to allow the man who has taken full advantage of a lease to come forward and seek to evade his obligations under the lease by denying that the purported landlord was the landlord". (See page 530) 

60. In Kok Hoong vs. Leong Cheong Kweng Mines Ltd., (1964 Appeal Cases 993), the Privy Council held that "a litigant may be shown to have acted positively in the face of the court, making an election and procuring from it an order affecting others apart from himself, in such circumstances the court has no option but to hold him to his conduct and refuse to start again on the basis that he has abandoned." (See page 1018) 

61. Justice Ashutosh Mookerjee speaking for the Division Bench of Calcutta High Court in Dwijendra Narain Roy vs. Joges Chandra De, (AIR 1924 Cal 600), held that it is an elementary rule that a party litigant cannot be permitted to assume inconsistent positions in Court, to play fast and loose, to blow hot and cold, to approbate and reprobate to the detriment of his opponent. This wholesome doctrine, the learned Judge held, applies not only to successive stages of the same suit, but also to another suit than the one in which the position was taken up, provided the second suit grows out of the judgment in the first. 

62. It may be mentioned in this connection that all the proceedings pursued by the contesting respondent in which it took the plea of irrevocable licence was virtually in clear contradiction of its stand which it took before the Bombay High Court on 12.7.01 where it had given up the plea of `irrevocable licence'. It is on this plea that its suit again became triable by the Bombay City Civil Court and all subsequent proceedings pursued by the contesting respondent followed thereafter. 

63. This Court has also applied the doctrine of election in C. Beepathumma & Ors. vs. V.S. Kadambolithaya & Ors., 1964 (5) SCR 836, wherein this Court relied on Maitland as saying: "That he who accepts a benefit under a deed or will or other instrument must adopt the whole contents of that instrument, must conform to all its provisions and renounce all rights that are inconsistent with it." (Maitlands Lectures on Equity, Lecture 18). This Court also took note of the principle stated in White & Tudor's Leading Case in Equity volume 18th edition at p.444 - wherein it is stated, "Election is the obligation imposed upon a party by Courts of equity to choose between two inconsistent or alternative rights or claims in cases where there is clear intention of the person from whom he derives one that he should not enjoy both... That he who accepts a benefit under a deed or will must adopt the whole contents of the instrument." 

64. In M/s New Bihar Biri Leaves Co. & Ors. vs. State of Bihar & Ors., (1981) 1 SCC 537, this Court observed that it is a fundamental principle of general application that if a person of his own accord, accepts a contract on certain terms and works out the contract, he cannot be allowed to adhere to and abide by some of the terms of the contract which proved advantageous to him and repudiate the other terms of the same contract which might be disadvantageous to him. The maxim, qui approbat non reprobat (one who approbates cannot reprobate), applies in our laws too.

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