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A Warning on Boundary Disputes

Jul 6th, 2015

Every now and then, the national media focus on the level of lawyers costs. A recent example were costs in some negligence cases against the NHS. It was said that lawyers were charging up to £800 an hour, a rate which is sheer fantasy for most lawyers in the provinces. Most good lawyers are wise enough to understand that clients who are upset about the level of costs, do not remain clients for very long!

On the same subject, my attention was drawn to a case decided this year in the Court of Appeal. One of the Lord Justices, in his judgment, observed that the value of the right of way being argued about was not more than £3,500 but the case took 10 days to hear and the costs probably totalled some £500,000. Another of the Judges described the case as “depressingly unfortunate” and “Dickensian”.

The case was about more than a right of way, though, because it also included a dispute about a boundary! In my firm, boundary disputes are a high risk area of our business. The simple fact is that usually the evidence is circumstantial and both parties regard it as a matter of principle. At that stage, commercial reality flies out of the window and emotions rule the day. The case in question involved interpretation of a plan on a 1950 Conveyance together with the evidence of a number of witnesses. The right of way over the private lane was adjudged to have been acquired by long use, i.e. prescription, but the boundary issue caused much more of a problem to the Court. In the end, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in the Court below and, in doing so, relied heavily on the 1950 plan.

In many ways the facts of this case are not important, particularly because they are only relevant to this particular set of circumstances. However, the case as a whole serves as a solemn warning to all those who would embark upon a boundary dispute. However modest the lawyers fees may be, it is absolutely bound to be very expensive in terms of time, stress and money. Be warned!

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