High Court Deliberates Adverse Possession, Land Registration, and Boundary Disputes in Clapham v Narga [2023] EWHC 3337 (Ch)

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3337 (Ch)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Anthony Charles Clapham & Ors v Dee Narga ([2023] EWHC 3337 (Ch)), the High Court of Justice deliberated upon the nuanced application of land registration, adverse possession, and boundary disputes under the Land Registration Acts of 1925 and 2002. The central legal discussions revolved around the effects of registration on land ownership claims, particularly when adverse possession precedes first registration, and the judicial interpretation of the general boundaries rule.

Key Facts

The appellants, the Claphams and the Wrights, claimed ownership over two strips of land (the “Strip”) adjoining their properties based on adverse possession, asserting that they should be the registered proprietors. The respondent, Ms. Narga, who acquired the adjacent property, disputed this claim. The original trial held the boundary to be the north edge of the south bank of a brook, dismissing the appellants’ claims. The appeal focused on (1) the registration of the Strip’s ownership and its implications under the Land Registration Acts of 1925 and 2002, and (2) the boundary determination between the appellants’ and respondent’s lands.

The key legal principles at play in this case include:

Adverse Possession:

Under the Limitation Act 1980, a squatter can acquire legal title to land after 12 years of uninterrupted possession. This title acquisition extinguishes the original owner’s title.

Land Registration Act 1925:

Section 75 created a statutory trust, where the registered proprietor holds the title for the person who acquired it by the operation of the Limitation Act, without extinguishing the squatter’s title. This was significant because the appellants had acquired title by adverse possession before first registration under the 1925 Act.

Land Registration Act 2002:

Section 96 changed the adverse possession rules for registered land, disapplying certain sections of the Limitation Act 1980. Schedule 6 introduced a new regime, requiring squatters to apply for registration after 10 years of possession under certain conditions.

General Boundaries Rule:

In accordance with the Land Registration Rule 278 (1925) and Section 60 (2002 Act), the exact line of a property boundary does not need to be determined upon registration, leaving room for boundary disputes. This rule was central to the appellants’ claim that their possession of the Strip was not obvious during the inspection at the time of the respondent’s purchase.

Outcomes

The judge upheld the following principles:

  1. Application of Section 75: The judge found Section 75 applied retrospectively and imposed a trust in favor of the appellants since the land was registered prior to the 2002 Act coming into force. This finding was on the premise that the 1925 and 2002 Acts link the squatter’s title and the statutory trust regardless of whether the right was established before or after the property’s first registration.

  2. General Boundaries Rule: The judge concluded that the general boundaries rule did not exempt the appellants from the effect of the Land Registration Act 2002, and that the precise boundary between the properties was indeed a matter for adjudication.

  3. Apparent Occupation for Overriding Interests: The judge found that although the appellants had actual occupation of the Strip, their occupation was not apparent upon inspection at the time of the respondent’s purchase, meaning the appellants’ interest did not override the respondent’s registered disposition.

Consequently, the appeal on Ground 1 was dismissed, but permission to appeal was granted on Grounds 2 and 3 concerning the true construction of the properties’ conveyances and the application of the general boundaries rule.

Conclusion

The case illustrates the complexities of adverse possession, land registration, and the general boundaries rule in property law. It underscores that even with acquired rights through adverse possession, the exact procedures of land registration under successive legislation play a determinative role in a property’s ownership and the resolution of boundary disputes. Legal professionals should take note of how historical possession and context are considered alongside the precise legislative framework of the Land Registration Act, balancing both statutory interpretation and the intended protection of both squatters’ rights and subsequent purchasers.

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