Significance of Central London Property Trust Ltd V High Trees House Ltd

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On the facts of the High Trees case, a landlord agreed with the tenant that rent due under a lease would be reduced during the Second World War period. However, once the war came to an end, the landlord attempted to recover the full assessment of payments to make in the future, as well as the deductions agreed to with respect to previous payments on the basis that the duty rule exempted enforcing modifications.4Lord Denning agreed that there was no consideration to support the promise made by the landlord with respect to the rent reduction. However, Lord Denning went on to state that the promise could nevertheless be enforced with respect to the war period because they:Promise to accept a smaller sum in the discharge of a larger sum, if acted upon, is binding notwithstanding the absence of consideration: and if the fusion of law and equity leads to this result, so much the better. 5Thus, the ruling in the High Trees case not only provided an exception to the Foakes v Beer case but also to Pinnel’s Case which was affirmed by Foakes v Beer. Sir Edward Coke had ruled in Pinnel’s Case that partly discharging a debt would not operate to satisfy the whole of the debt.6Lord Denning clarified his interpretation and application of the doctrine of promissory estoppel in Combes v Combes (1951). In this case, following a divorce decree, a husband via his solicitors agreed to pay the wife 100 pounds annually. The wife, in turn, promised that pursuant to the husband’s undertaking, she would forego legal action. When the husband failed to pay, the wife sued him for arrears. Lord Denning then defined the parameters for the High Trees doctrine:The principle stated in the High Trees case…does not create a new cause of action where none existed before. It only prevents a party from insisting upon his strict legal rights, when it would be unjust to allow him to enforce them.7