Unclean Hands Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Unclean Hands?

(n) Doctrine of Unclean Hands is a defense used by a defendant against a law suit when the complainant him self has done a wrong thing in the subject matter in which the plaintiff is seeking courts assistance. For example Mr. Smiths advance money to Mr.Kelly to beat his neighbor, and Kelly failed to do the work. Here Mr.Smith is having an Unclean Hand.

History and Meaning of Unclean Hands

The doctrine of unclean hands is a legal defense in which the defendant claims that the plaintiff is not entitled to a legal remedy due to their own misconduct related to the subject matter of the lawsuit. The defendant in such a case must provide evidence that the plaintiff had unclean hands or was involved in wrongful conduct of some sort.

The origin of this legal principle can be traced back to the English Court of Chancery in the 17th century, where the doctrine of equity originated. The court refused to grant a legal remedy in cases where the plaintiff was guilty of inequitable conduct or wrongdoing, as it would be unconscionable to do so.

Examples of Unclean Hands

  1. A landlord who fails to make necessary repairs to a rental property sues a tenant for unpaid rent. The tenant could defend themselves with the doctrine of unclean hands, arguing that the landlord's failure to provide a livable space justifies their refusal to pay rent.

  2. A person files a lawsuit for copyright infringement against another individual, but it is discovered that the plaintiff had previously infringed on the defendant's copyright. In this case, the defense of unclean hands would be available to the defendant, as the plaintiff had their own illegal actions related to the case.

  3. An employee who was fired for misconduct sues their employer for wrongful termination. The employer could argue that the employee's unclean hands or wrongdoing contributed to their firing.

Legal Terms Similar to Unclean Hands

  1. Laches - the defense that the plaintiff delayed too long in bringing a claim that they had a right to bring, which has resulted in prejudice to the defendant.

  2. Estoppel - a principle that prevents a person from denying or alleging a fact because of their own previous actions or statements.

  3. Clean hands - a maxim that states that a plaintiff must have acted fairly and without wrongdoing in the matter they are looking to get relief for in court.