The most amusing maxim of equity is "He who comes into Equity must come with clean hands." It has given rise ,to many interesting cases and poor jokes. The maxim has been regarded as an especially significant manifestation of the ethical attitude of equity as contrasted with the common law. Pomeroy, for instance, argues that the principle involved in this maxim is "merely the expression of one of the elementary and fundamental conceptions of equity jurisprudence." Pomeroy's theory is that chancery has power to force a defendant to comply with the dictates of conscience as to matters outside the strict rules of law. Correspondingly, it will not interfere on behalf of a plaintiff whose own conduct in this connection has been contrary to conscience. In other words, since equity tries to enforce good faith in defendants, it no less stringently demands the same good faith from plaintiffs. This idea was lately expressed by Justice Murphy in the Precision Instrument case: "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."
Zechariah Chafee, Jr.,
COMING INTO EQUITY WITH CLEAN HANDS,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol47/iss7/2