Approbate And Reprobate

Approbate And Reprobate
Approbate And Reprobate
Quick Summary of Approbate And Reprobate

Approbate and reprobate is a legal doctrine that prevents a party from accepting a benefit under a transaction or document while simultaneously trying to deny or reject its validity or enforceability. In other words, a person cannot have it both ways by accepting the advantages of a particular action or document and then later disavowing or challenging its legal effect.

This doctrine is based on the principle of fairness and prevents individuals from taking inconsistent positions in legal matters. It ensures that parties cannot selectively choose which parts of a transaction or document they want to accept or reject based on their own interests.

For example, if a person accepts a monetary payment under a contract but later tries to argue that the contract is invalid, the doctrine of approbate and reprobate would prevent them from benefiting from the payment while simultaneously denying the validity of the contract.

The doctrine is often applied in various legal contexts, including contract law, property law, and probate law. It serves to maintain consistency and integrity in legal proceedings and prevents parties from manipulating the legal system for their own advantage.

Overall, the doctrine of approbate and reprobate ensures that parties cannot have their cake and eat it too by requiring them to take a consistent and fair position in legal matters.

What is the dictionary definition of Approbate And Reprobate?
Dictionary Definition of Approbate And Reprobate

Approbate and reprobate is a legal term that refers to the inconsistent or contradictory behaviour of an individual or entity in accepting or rejecting a particular action, decision, or principle. It is commonly used in the context of legal proceedings, where a party may attempt to both approve and disapprove of the same action or argument, depending on their own self-interest or convenience.

In simpler terms, approbate and reprobate mean to have double standards or to contradict oneself by simultaneously supporting and opposing something. This behaviour is often seen as unfair, dishonest, or hypocritical, as it allows the individual or entity to manipulate the situation to their advantage while disregarding consistency or moral principles.

Full Definition Of Approbate And Reprobate

The principle of “approbate and reprobate” is a legal doctrine that embodies a fundamental concept in equity and contract law. Originating from Scottish law, this doctrine has been adopted and applied in various jurisdictions, including English law. It essentially holds that a party cannot accept (approbate) the beneficial aspects of a contract or document while simultaneously rejecting (reprobate) the burdensome parts. This overview delves into the origins, applications, and implications of this doctrine, providing a comprehensive understanding of its role and relevance in contemporary legal contexts.

Origins and Development

Historical Background

The doctrine of approbate and reprobate has its roots in Roman law, from which many principles of modern equity are derived. The Latin maxim “qui approbat non reprobate” (he who approbates cannot reprobate) succinctly captures the essence of the rule. In Scottish law, the doctrine evolved to prevent parties from engaging in contradictory behaviour regarding their legal rights and obligations.

Adoption in English Law

In English law, the principle was embraced as part of the broader development of equitable doctrines aimed at ensuring fairness and consistency in contractual dealings. It serves to uphold the integrity of agreements and the expectations of parties who rely on the terms of such agreements.

Key Elements and Mechanisms

Definition and Scope

At its core, the doctrine of approbate and reprobate precludes a party from selectively affirming or denying parts of a legal instrument or agreement. For instance, if an individual accepts a benefit under a will, they cannot subsequently challenge the validity of the will to avoid an obligation it imposes.

Legal Rationale

The legal rationale behind this doctrine is rooted in the principles of consistency and fairness. It prevents parties from engaging in “double-dealing” and ensures that they cannot “blow hot and cold” with respect to the same transaction. This principle maintains the balance of justice and protects the sanctity of legal agreements.

Application in Various Jurisdictions

While the doctrine is universally acknowledged, its application can vary across different legal systems. In common law jurisdictions, such as England and Wales, it is applied within the broader framework of equity. In civil law jurisdictions, the principle may be integrated into the general provisions governing contracts and obligations.

Practical Applications

Contract Law

In contract law, the doctrine is frequently invoked to prevent a party from asserting contradictory positions. For example, a party who accepts payment under a contract cannot later claim that the contract is void due to some defect.

Wills and Estates

The principle is particularly pertinent in the context of wills and estates. Beneficiaries who accept a bequest under a will are barred from contesting the will’s validity on grounds that would negate their own benefit. This ensures the orderly administration of estates and respects the testator’s intentions.

Case Law Examples

  1. Lissenden v. C.A.V. Bosch Ltd. [1940] AC 412
    • This case highlighted the application of the doctrine in employment law. The House of Lords held that an employee who accepted compensation under a redundancy scheme could not subsequently claim further compensation under a different provision of the same scheme.
  2. Evans v. Bartlam [1937] AC 473
    • In this case, the court affirmed that a party could not approbate and reprobate by taking advantage of a judgment and then seeking to set it aside.

Exceptions and Limitations

While the doctrine of approbate and reprobate is robust, there are notable exceptions and limitations. Courts may consider factors such as:

  • Mistake or Misunderstanding: If a party’s acceptance of a benefit was based on a mistake or misunderstanding, the doctrine may not apply.
  • Duress or Undue Influence: Acceptance obtained under duress or undue influence may not trigger the application of the doctrine.
  • Partial Invalidity: If only part of a document or contract is invalid, the courts may allow selective approbation and reprobation in certain circumstances.

Comparative Analysis

Civil Law Systems

In civil law jurisdictions, similar principles exist but are often embedded in the broader doctrine of estoppel or good faith. The exact mechanisms and terminologies may differ, but the underlying intent to prevent contradictory behaviour remains consistent.

Common Law Systems

In common law jurisdictions, the doctrine is typically applied with a greater emphasis on equitable principles. The courts exercise discretion in its application, ensuring that it serves the interests of justice in each case.

International Perspectives

Internationally, the principle finds resonance in various legal traditions. For instance, in European Union law, the doctrine can be seen in the context of preventing abuse of rights, where parties are barred from engaging in contradictory conduct that undermines legal certainty and fairness.

Criticisms and Controversies


Despite its broad acceptance, the doctrine of approbate and reprobate has faced criticisms, including:

  • Rigidity: Critics argue that the doctrine can be overly rigid, preventing legitimate claims based on new information or changed circumstances.
  • Inconsistency in Application: The discretionary nature of its application can lead to inconsistent outcomes, undermining the predictability of legal proceedings.


Proponents of the doctrine defend its necessity, highlighting its role in maintaining the integrity of legal agreements and ensuring equitable outcomes. They argue that without such a principle, parties could engage in manipulative and unjust behaviour.

Recent Developments

Judicial Interpretations

Recent case law continues to refine the boundaries of the doctrine. Courts have increasingly focused on balancing the principles of fairness and consistency with the need to avoid unduly harsh outcomes. For instance, courts may allow partial approbation and reprobation where it serves the interests of justice.

Legislative Changes

While primarily a judicial doctrine, there have been discussions about codifying aspects of approbate and reprobate within statutory frameworks to provide greater clarity and predictability. Such legislative changes aim to standardise the application of the doctrine across different legal contexts.

Practical Implications for Legal Practitioners

Contract Drafting

Legal practitioners must be vigilant in drafting contracts to anticipate and mitigate potential issues related to approbate and reprobate. Clear and unambiguous terms can help prevent disputes and ensure that parties understand their rights and obligations.

Litigation Strategies

In litigation, the doctrine can be a powerful tool for both plaintiffs and defendants. Lawyers must carefully assess the implications of their clients’ actions and ensure consistency in their legal positions to avoid falling foul of the doctrine.

Advising Clients

Advising clients on the potential impact of approbate and reprobate requires a nuanced understanding of the doctrine. Clients must be informed about the risks of contradictory conduct and the importance of maintaining consistent positions in legal matters.


The doctrine of approbate and reprobate is a cornerstone of equitable principles in both common law and civil law systems. It plays a critical role in ensuring fairness and consistency in legal transactions, preventing parties from engaging in contradictory behaviour. While it has faced criticisms, its enduring relevance underscores its importance in upholding the integrity of legal agreements.

As legal systems continue to evolve, the doctrine of approbate and reprobate will likely adapt to new challenges and contexts. Legal practitioners must remain adept at navigating its complexities, ensuring that their clients’ actions align with the principles of equity and justice. Through careful application and thoughtful consideration, the doctrine will continue to serve as a vital mechanism for maintaining balance and fairness in the legal landscape.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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