Clean Hands Doctrine Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Clean Hands Doctrine, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Clean Hands Doctrine?

It refers to the rule of law where the court does not support or is not in favour of the person who have morally or legally acted wrongly in that subject matter of the case.This doctrine can be used by the defendant disputing the charges of the plaintiff, stating that the plaintiff have clean hands on the matter and have been involved in wrong doing. For example, in a divorce case, the defendant can state that his wife had concealed about her assets at the time of marriage and is still doing so. He has to provide evidence of the same.If proven thru, the court would not award the full value of alimony to the wife by the way of clean hands doctrine.

History and Meaning of Clean Hands Doctrine

The "clean hands doctrine" is a legal principle that has its origins in the courts of equity in England. It refers to the idea that a plaintiff cannot seek relief from a court if they have acted unethically, illegally, or immorally in relation to the subject matter of the case. The principle is based on the notion that a court of equity should not aid someone who has engaged in wrongful conduct.

In modern times, the clean hands doctrine is applied in a variety of legal contexts, from family law to commercial disputes. It is invoked by defendants seeking to have a case dismissed, or by plaintiffs arguing that the other party should not be entitled to relief.

Examples of Clean Hands Doctrine

  1. In a breach of contract case, a defendant might argue that the plaintiff acted in bad faith and breached the contract themselves, meaning they have unclean hands, and therefore cannot seek a remedy from the court.

  2. In a custody dispute, a parent might argue that the other parent's misconduct during the marriage, such as infidelity or substance abuse, should preclude them from being awarded custody.

  3. In a trademark dispute, a defendant might argue that the plaintiff engaged in similar behavior with regards to the use of another trademark, which would demonstrate that they have unclean hands and are not entitled to relief.

Legal Terms Similar to Clean Hands Doctrine

  1. In pari delicto: A legal principle which means that parties who are equally at fault in a matter should not be entitled to relief from a court.

  2. Laches: An equitable doctrine that bars a claim after an unreasonable delay by the party bringing the claim.

  3. Estoppel: An equitable doctrine that prevents a party from asserting a claim or defense that is inconsistent with their previous words or actions.