Tag Archives: easement

Park up your troubles: newspaper coverage of neighbour dispute cases

Land law thoughts: warning – almost completely not about Legal History!

Two areas of legal interest which are more frequently covered by the right wing press than the rest of what used to be called ‘Fleet Street’ are (i) succession (when there is a family dispute); and (ii) neighbour disputes. I think there’s a Ph.D. or at least a dissertation for somebody on the way these are covered, but until it appears, here is a start in pulling together some thoughts on the neighbour disputes ones, prompted by a report in this morning’s Mail: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6172095/Neighbours-ten-year-war-30-inch-parking-space-ends-warring-parties-paying-bills.htmlc

The case involved use of a parking space at a property in Berkshire. If the owner parked in a particular part of the space, that restricted or denied access to the neighbouring property’s back garden.

As it’s the Daily Mail, and I have read a number of such articles there, I was not surprised to see the piece highlighting the following:

  • The amount of money spent on legal action (£120,000)
  • The length of the dispute (10 years)
  • Descriptions of the disputed land: ‘a 30 inch parking space’ (imperial, obviously) and ‘a thin strip of concrete’ (concrete – a bit modern and insignificant). In fact, although it almost suggests this is an ownership issue, it isn’t: it’s an easement case.
  • A kick for lawyers, even though the piece also makes it clear that it could have been settled amicably, and the parties are ‘stubborn pensioners’ (not quite on-brand there, Daily Mail) who have engaged in ‘bickering’ and a ‘frenzy’ of legal action. The implication seems to be that lawyers encouraged the legal action (those ‘pettifogging’ slurs go deep into history) even though I would be very surprised if lawyers involved in such a case did not try and encourage the parties to come to a sensible agreement.
  • Legal bills described as ‘eye watering’ – without any context as to what was provided by the lawyers (over ten years?). It may be that they over-charged, but it isn’t possible to tell from this. The disproportion is really between the value of the land/right in question and the amount of money: and unless the evil lawyers were forcing the parties to litigate against all reason, that’s hardly their fault.
  • A photograph of the ‘winner’, who gets the right to use the path: pictured with a walking aid, though, in fact, according to the story, he does not live at the property, but rents it out. In a way, this makes the story look like ‘nasty people stop mobility-impaired man using access to his house’, when it is more ‘people use car space in a way which potentially reduces financial gain on second home’.
  • Extra facts – the applicant ‘lives with his wife’ in an ‘impressive £1.5 million 5 bedroomed house in nearby village of Cookham. The losing respondents, however, had moved down South from Scotland. This may help the DM reader to decide who is the more sympathetic ‘stubborn pensioner’ in the dispute.

A more legal explanation (including the fact that it’s about easements and prescription – lost modern grants, Prescription Act and all that getting an airing) can be seen at: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWLandRA/2018/2017_0077.pdf

This is the judgment of the Land Registration Tribunal. Here, we have metric measurements (the horror!) and some ‘nice points’ about exactly how acquiescence is to be understood (still a bit unsatisfactory, it seems to me, but let’s leave that for now), but  almost no criticism of lawyers (it does in fact speak of solicitors ‘taking up the cudgels’ after initial disputes between the parties (para 12) – which seems a little unnecessarily fighting talk-ish). Nothing about Scotland, or the applicant’s ‘impressive’ home.

Lots to compare and contrast, and the makings of an interesting study, if more examples were included.

‘Dickensian litigation’ – CA judgment in Gilks v Hodgson (2015) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/5.html

Lawyers do like their Dickens references. The concept of ‘Dickensian litigation’ has reared its head in a recent easements case, Gilks v Hodgson (2015) which can be found at

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/5.html

 

Bean LJ’s allusion, no doubt, is to the preposterously and ruinously extended case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce from Bleak House. Both cases cost significantly more than the subject matter was worth – in the recent case, it has been suggested that costs might be £500,000 – so the characterisation of Gilks v Hodgson seems justified in part. In addition, there is the odd whimsical touch, such as the issue of whether or not some alpacas were being disturbed, which might well have appealed to Dickens. On the other hand, there are clear differences – the parties in Gilks do not sound as if they will be ruined by the case, however foolish it may seem, and it has not lasted anything like as long as Jarndyce.

 

The idea of ‘Dickensian’ litigation is perhaps more appropriate in long running and complex cases such as Hackney LBC v Sivanandan [2013] EWCA Civ 22, a discrimination case which had lasted at least 12 years, with many twists and turns (see Mummery LJ at 2). It is complexity – again probably alluding to Jarndyce – which is described as Dickensian in the multi party Jackson v Thakrar case ([2007] EWHC 271, per HHJ Peter Coulson QC).

 

Other Dickens works appear to be the subject of allusion in relation to the chaining of prisoners in hospital – Elias J, whose remarks are reported in Spinks v Secretary of State for the Home Office [2005] EWCA Civ. 295 (referring to A Tale of Two Cities crossed with A Christmas Carol?). Poverty and poor living conditions (which might be drawn from Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, or elsewhere) are the ‘Dickensian’ factors in Murphy v Burrows [2004] EWHC 1900 (Ch) (per Richard Sheldon QC). Malicious and brutal schoolmasters (presumably Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby) are drawn to mind by the reference in R on the application of Williamson v Secretary of State for Education [2001] EWHC 960. Perhaps the most specific (relatively) recent reference is that by Peter Hayward in Burrals of Wisbech Ltd’s Applications [2004] RPC 14. Discussing the peculiarity of a stature which distinguishes between the right to inspect a document, and the right to copy it, he brings in the office Deputy Chaff-Wax(seen in A Poor Man’s Tale of a Patent). See also the specific reference by chapter to the ‘Dickensian’ administration of patents – Oliver LJ in Therm-a-Stor Ltd v Weatherseal Windows Ltd [1981] FSR 579, citing Little Dorrit c. 10.

 

To return to Gilks v Hodgson, while judges instinct might be for the ‘Dickensian’ reference, media interest has been so keen to note that the location of the dispute is close to the homes of various footballers and celebrities (in Cheshire) that perhaps it would be equally justified to invoke the world of Footballers’ Wives or Heat magazine. The judge at first instance called the parties’ relationship ‘toxic’, though, disappointingly, without any overt Britney Spears reference.

For media coverage, see, e.g.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11236002/Warring-couples-spend-half-a-million-pounds-in-legal-fight-over-muddy-ditch.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2838039/Wealthy-neighbours-spend-500-000-right-way-legal-wrangle-muddy-ditch-just-feet-wide-separates-land.html

GS 24/1/2015.