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Mr. Combe made an agreement to pay his estranged wife £100 per year. The wife brought an action to enforce the promise invoking promissory estoppel. The trial level judge held that estoppel can be a cause of action. Mr. Combe appealed.
- Can estoppel be used as a cause of action?
Denning, writing for the court, clarifies his words concerning estoppel from High Trees. He clearly states that it cannot be used as a cause of action, but only as a defence when someone is trying to claim that a promise they made did not have consideration and is therefore not binding; estoppel is a "shield", not a "sword". Therefore, the only issue in this case is whether or not the wife gave consideration for the yearly payments. Denning decides that she did not, as there is no evidence the husband ever requested the wife not to go to court. Even if she had promised not to do so, there would still be no cause of action as one cannot waive a statutory right. In the result, her claim must fail. safe.
Estoppel is only a defence, not a cause of action where one did not exist before.