The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “Equitable” as “having or displaying equity: dealing fairly and equally with all concerned”. In legal parlance too, the word “Equitable” refers to “being just, fair, and right, in consideration of the facts and circumstances of the individual case”.

As the definitions suggest, being equitable does not allow prosecutors and defendants to be bogged down by legal technicalities and involves providing a fair trial for everyone involved. These laws, which are also known as equity, are different from common laws.

The common laws of a country are those which have precedents in court rulings. Any case that has a predecessor in the court of law will be judged in the exact same way the previous case was adjudged.

Equity was developed almost three centuries after the formation of the common law, to supplement and support the rulings which were based on the common law. Certain rulings, which were found to be too harsh or unfair, led to discontent amongst the public and the legal fraternity. Equity served as a way to judge cases which needed special attention and where unique considerations had to be taken into account. The objective was to ensure a just trial where both the accused and the victim would be able to put forth their cases in a non-threatening and unbiased environment.

Equity in action

There are various aspects of equity in a court of law:

  • Equitable defense
    If the prosecutor’s party has accused the defendant of a crime, while having committed an infraction or a violation themselves, the defendant’s party can ask for an equitable defense. Here, a request is made to the court to acquit the defendant of the crime, in view of the crime perpetrated by the prosecutor. This is followed for minor misdemeanors and not high crimes.
  • Equitable recoupment
    In case of time-barred debts, the debtor only has to pay damages that remain after a reasonable deduction of the fines based on the Statute of Limitations. The creditor can only claim damages to the extent of the debtor’s current debt violations and not the full amount. This is usually done when the Statute of Limitations runs out and when an extremely high and unreasonable payment is expected from the creditor.
  • Equitable relief
    Also known as an injunction, here, the claimant can request the other party from refraining to perform an act. This is usually done in cases of tort when the damages do not cover the total losses that a party experiences as a result of the infraction or violation.

For example, a company misuses the name of a competitor and makes wrong claims in its advertisements. Post-conviction, they are asked to pay the prosecutor damages. The prosecutor can also ask the defendant to stop using their name in advertisements as part of the equitable relief.