Vernon v Bethell

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Vernon v Bethell
A Plan of the Estate Called Jonas's Situated in the Division of North Sound in the Island of Antigua, the Property of Peter Langford Brooke, Esquire WDL647.png
Court Court of Chancery
Citation(s) (1762) 28 ER 838, 2 Eden 110
Keywords
Equity of redemption, necessity

Vernon v Bethell (1762) 28 ER 838 is an English property law case, where it was affirmed that there could be no clog on the equity of redemption. In justifying this rule, Lord Henley LC made the famous observation that,

The case stands for the principle that "once a mortgage, always a mortgage", meaning a borrower cannot contract to give up his right to redeem title to his property once his debt is discharged. It was a landmark decision in upholding some basic protection at common law for debtors. It also had historic significance in the principle it laid out inspired the Second Bill of Rights, proclaimed by the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union Address, to promote basic social and economic rights for all citizens.

Facts[edit]

Antigua today.

Major James Vernon wished to pay off his debts to Mr Bethell’s estate and recover title of a sugar plantation in Antigua where he lived. Vernon had taken out a £278 mortgage on the land, and on 5 March 1729 he assigned the mortgage to Mr Bethell, to whom he sold sugar, and got from him further loans of £5000 to £6000. On 23 April 1738 Bethell requested repayment of sums owed, by then £9541 9s 1d, or the enforcement of the security by taking possession of the land, but still leave some for Major Vernon and his family.[1] On 25 August 1738 Vernon replied that he would convey possession of the land to Bethell for five guineas, and its profits, for release of the debt of £9976 1s 11d. Various other letters and statements by Bethell acknowledged that Vernon should be able to recover title if his debts were paid off. When Bethell died his will, from 19 March 1758 stated that if Vernon ceased with some ‘unjust pretences’ to defeat his title to the land and would accept £6000, then he should be given full title. The price of the land by then had risen significantly, and Vernon sought a declaration that he retained the equity of redemption, that he could get full title to his land back with debts repaid.

Judgment[edit]

Lord Henley LC held that there could be no clog on the equity of redemption, so that any restriction on the right to redeem one's property had the debt been discharged was ineffective. He held the exchange of letters between Mr Bethell and Major Vernon showed that only a security interest, and not an absolute conveyance was intended.

Significance[edit]

The famous phrase that "necessitous men are not truly speaking free men" was repeated in Franklin D Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address to justify a Second Bill of Rights in the United States, in favour of basic social and economic guarantees.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ “My account is swelled to so enormous an amount, that I must have possession of the Antigua estate, in order to save something for your family.”

External links[edit]