CAN THE LAW OF ESTOPPEL BE APPLIED AGAINST A MINOR?

DOCTRINE OF ESTOPPEL

The term “Estoppel” comes from an old French word- “Estoupail” (or variation), which suggests a “stopper plug” of placing a brake on the imbalance of the situation. Estoppel is mainly a judicial principle of common law that enables a court to prevent an individual from accusing or denying a certain fact or factual status due to previous accusations or denials or acts or admissions of the final adjudication of the matter in a court of law.

Indian Evidence Act 1872 defines estoppel. Section 115 of the act stipulates that – “When one person has, by his declaration, act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his representative shall be allowed, in any suit or proceeding between himself and such person or his representative, to deny the truth of that thing.[1]

DEFINITION OF MINOR

Section 3 of The Majority Act, 1875 states that – “Every person domiciled in India shall attain the age of majority on his completing the age of eighteen years and not before.”[2] So, any person who is under the age of eighteen years is a minor. If a minor has a guardian or a court of the ward to look after him, he will remain a minor until he is 21 years old.

CAN THE LAW OF ESTOPPEL BE APPLIED AGAINST A MINOR?

The law of estoppel cannot be applied against a minor. Accordingly, an individual who is a minor cannot be made liable for a contract by means of estoppel under section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act. Section 11 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 stipulates the competency of parties to enter into a contract[3]. The very first such requirement is that of the majority of age. The parties of a contract must be major. They must not be a person who is a minor and under the age of 18 years. As a result, a contract with any person who is a minor is void ab initio. Void ab initio means void from the very beginning. As a result, this type of contract has no value in the eyes of the law. A minor misrepresenting himself as a major and entering into any contract cannot be made liable for it. He can plead minority and avoid the contract at any time. The law of estoppel would not apply to him.

CASE STUDY

In the case of Mohori Bibi v. Dharmo Das Ghose[4], the Privy Council strictly stated that any sought of a contract with a minor or with any infant shall be null and void. In the case, the defendant who is a minor misinterpreted his age to mortgage his house. The money-lender however was already aware that the defendant was a minor. The Privy Council did not recognize the doctrine of estoppel here since the appellant was not deceived by the statement of the minor. Here the point of estoppel against a minor was raised but not determined.

In the case of Brohmo Dutt v. Dharmo Das Ghose[5] the issue of whether the estoppel promulgated in Article 115 of the Indian Evidence Law is applicable to minors was studied. In this case, Judge Jenkins held that the general prohibition of estoppel promulgated by section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 does not apply to minors and infants unless he commits fraud by operating deception. Maclean, C.J and Prinsep, J. in the appeal held that section 115 does not apply to an individual who is not a major. The section is fully applicable only to adults and persons with contractual capacity.

In the case of Jagar Nath Singh v. Lalta Prasad[6] , Banerji, J stated that – “The defendants deny that the plaintiffs were minors at the date of the sale and assert that the plaintiffs represented themselves to be of full age and thus induced them to purchase the property. They contend that the plaintiffs are estopped from maintaining the suit, and that in any case they are bound to make restitution of the amount of consideration for the sale. The Court below found that the age of the plaintiffs was below 21 years on the date of the execution of the sale deed and that they were minors and incompetent to make the contract of sale. Following the ruling of their lordships of the Privy Council in Mohori Bibi v. Dharmo Das Ghose the learned Subordinate Judge held the sale to be void. He, however, was of opinion that the plaintiffs had made fraudulent misrepresentations to the purchasers as to their age and that they benefited from the sale. He accordingly made a decree for possession on condition that the plaintiffs should refund so much of the consideration for the sale as representing the value of the share decreed to them”[7].

The same views were accepted in the case of Golam Abdin Sarkar vs Hem Chandra Majumdar[8] and the case of Kumar Ganganand Singh And Ors. vs Maharaja Sir Rameshwar Singh [9].

In the case of Nawab Sadiq Ali Khan vs Jai Kishori[10], where the privy council noted that – an act committed by a minor is null and incapable of finding a plea in court. As a result, the judgement dictates that there should be no estoppel against a minor.

In the case Ajudhia Prasad And Anr. v. Chandan Lal And Anr.[11] two minors fraudulently entered into a mortgage deed by concealing the very fact that they were minor. The court held that there should be no estoppel that would arise against an individual who is a minor.

In the case of Surendra Nath Roy v. Krishna Sakhi Dasi[12], the court held that if there is a false statement on the minor’s part and the seller is deceived by him, the minor will be bound by the transaction. However, the court found no fraudulent representation on the part of the minor.

CONCLUSION

The doctrine of estoppel is an equitable remedy that prevents someone from saying in court that something they have previously stated to be true in court, or that the court has established to be true, is not true. It protects people from fraud or misrepresentation. However, the doctrine of estoppel cannot be applied against a minor. In order to protect minors from their own lack of experience and avoid unnecessary difficulties for adults who treat minors fairly, the principle of estoppel does not apply to minors.

Author(s) Name: Subah Samiha Afrid (University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh)

References:

[1] Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 115

[2] Majority Act 1875, s 3(1)

[3] Indian Contract Act 1872, s 11

[4] Mohori Bibi v Dharmo Das Ghose [1903] 30 Cal 539

[5] Brohmo Dutt v Dharmo Das Ghose [1989] ILR 26 Cal 381

[6] Jagar Nath Singh v Lalta Prasad [1908] 1 Ind Cas 562

[7] Id.

[8] Golam Abdin Sarkar v Hem Chandra Majumdar [1915] 32 Ind Cas 388.

[9] Kumar Ganganand Singh and Ors. v Maharaja Sir Rameshwar Singh [1927] 102 Ind Cas 449

[10] Nawab Sadiq Ali Khan v Jai Kishori [1928] 30 BOMLR 1346

[11] Ajudhia Prasad and Anr. v Chandan Lal And Anr. [1937] AIR 1937 All 610

[12] Surendra Nath Roy v Krishna Sakhi Dasi [1911] 9 Ind Cas 110

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