Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Clean Hands Definition:

A maxim of the law to the effect that any person, individual or corporate, that wishes to ask or petition a court for judicial action, must be in a position free of fraud or other unfair conduct.

Related Terms: Equity, Pari Delicto, Commodum Ex Injuria Sua Nemo Habere Debet, Ex Turpi Causa Non Oritur Actio, Equitable Estoppel

In the doctrine of equity, this clean hands maxim applies:

He that hath committed iniquity shall not have equity."1

The maxim is sometimes expressed as:

"He who seeks equity must do equity."2

In Precision Instrument Manufacturing Corporation., Justice Murphy of the Supreme Court of United States wrote:

"The guiding doctrine in this case is the equitable maxim that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.

"This maxim is far more than a mere banality. It is a self-imposed ordinance that closes the doors of a court of equity to one tainted with inequitableness or bad faith relative to the matter in which he seeks relief, however improper may have been the behavior of the defendant. That doctrine is rooted in the historical concept of court of equity as a vehicle for affirmatively enforcing the requirements of conscience and good faith. This presupposes a refusal on its part to be the abettor of iniquity.

"Thus while equity does not demand that its suitors shall have led blameless lives, as to other matters, it does require that they shall have acted fairly and without fraud or deceit as to the controversy in issue."

In the 6th edition of Megarry & Wade on The Law of Real Property, the authors affirm:
"A party seeking equitable relief must come with clean hands. Although trivial misconduct will not be fatal to his claim, the court will refuse relief if he has seriously misconducted himself."
French: Mains propres.

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