Our courts give relief of two classes, according as they sit as courts of law or courts of equity. Equitable powers were formerly exercised by separate courts; but now the higher courts generally have both legal and equitable jurisdiction. A court of law as such is limited in its method of relief. Except in some cases in which the return of a specific chattel will be directed, and in actions concerning the title to real estate, a court of law can only compel the payment of damages. A court exercising equitable powers, on the other hand, may order a defendant to act, or not to act, in a certain way; the penalty for failure to comply with such an order is punishment for contempt. Injunctions present a familiar instance of an equitable remedy, enforceable by contempt proceedings.

One of the important classes of equitable actions is found in bills for the specific performance of a contract. Instead of submitting to a breach of contract, and recovering money damages therefor, the aggrieved party may in many, but not in all cases, by means of a bill in equity, compel the other party to perform the contract. Thus in the case of contracts for the sale of land, equity will take jurisdiction; in that of contracts for the sale of personal property, equitable relief is not ordinarily given. Equity will not in general grant specific performance of a contract involving the exercise of discretion and skill and the rendering of personal services, and would undoubtedly refuse to compel an architect to carry out an agreement to perform the services commonly rendered in the designing and building of a house. The reason is found in the impossibility of judicial supervision of the work. The remedy for such a refusal by an architect would be by an action for damages. A building agreement would not ordinarily be enforced in equity, although certain agreements involving simple construction have been enforced. A negative promise, as if an architect promises not to work for any person in a certain locality, other than A, or not to erect a building similar to X's, may be enforced by injunction.

The reforming of contracts, hitherto referred to, is also a matter within the powers of a court of equity only.