Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Promises in law, or estoppel

Sujaan Singh Kochhar

This essay was entered for the Peter Cane Legal Reasoning Prize run by Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Contestants were required to analyse a hypothetical case in terms of an invented law.

Hypothetical case

Aparna owns a large farm. Since 2015, her niece Freya has helped in the running of the farming business. For the first few months this was on a voluntary basis but after seeing how helpful Freya could be Aparna offered to pay Freya £10 an hour. Freya alway s admired Aparna’s strength of character, especially in the wake of several family tragedies, including the recent death of Aparna’s brother— Freya was happy to help out however she could. In early 2016, Aparna invited Freya to move into a small, run-down cottage on the corner of the farm and live there rent- free. ‘ This way you’ll be close to work — and your favourite aunty ’, Aparna explained. Freya gratefully accepted the offer. In late 2016, the following conversation occurred: Aparna: Is this ‘ influencer ’ thing of yours really worth it? It takes up so much of your time. Freya: It does, but my followers on Instagram love seeing what it’s like to live on a farm. I’ve attracted a lot more advertisers since I moved into the cute cottage! Aparna: That’s gr eat, but I think you should focus on your life on the farm. I want you to be ready when the time comes. Freya: What time is that? I start university next year. Aparna: I’m not sure you’ll need to go. I live alone, have no kids, my brother is gone — who else is going to inherit the farm? Whoever inherits the farm must know how to run it. I’ve been training you since 2015. A few days later, Freya turned down her place at university and rejected several lucrative advertising deals as an influencer. She tirelessly dedicated herself to the farm. In early 2019, Aparna casually suggested that Freya ‘ fix up’ the cottage, ‘ especially since it’s basically been your home since 2016 ’. Over the next few years, Freya spent £5000 repairing and improving the cottage. In early 2022, Aparna became very ill and was told that she only had a year or so to live. She told Freya that her help was no longer needed: Aparna had found someone who wanted to buy the farm and the related farming business for £5.5 million. Aparna will donate the sale proceeds to charity. Freya is devastated. The following conversation occurs. Freya: How could you do this to me? I gave up my place at university. I neglected my Instagram career: I bet I could have made more than £35,000 a year, had I focused on it. Plus I spent £5000 fixing up the cottage and spent a year working on the farm – all because you told me I would inherit it! Aparna: What are you talking about? I gave you your very first job, I’ve paid you a salary, and I’ve let you liv e in the cottage rent- free. I’m grateful for all your help, and that you fixed up the cottage, but this was all your decision. I’m still the owner: I decide what happens to the farm while I live, and after I die. Freya: If you don’t want the farm anymore , you should give it to me like you promised. Either transfer it to me, or sell it and give me the sale proceeds. At the least, you should let me stay in the cottage and do something about everything I’ve lost because of this. You led me to believe it woul d all be mine one day.


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