The Court of Appeal heard a second appeal from a decision of the Deputy Adjudicator of the Land Registry, Lamb Chambers’ own Mr Simon Brilliant, relating to alteration of the Register on grounds of mistake.
The Respondents had registered a Lordship and, based on the ancient manorial rights attached to it, promptly registered ownership of 362 acres of fell land (“the Fell”), purchased for the princely sum of £1. Locals objected to both after registration had been completed. At first instance, it was found that the Lordship had in fact been extinguished centuries ago. It was therefore removed from the register, but the title to the Fell was not altered.The locals appealed twice but the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of both lower courts. They chiefly argued that the rights to the Fell flowed from the Lordship. If the Lordship did not exist, neither could the land rights, therefore the latter should also be struck from the Register.
Although the argument of the locals sounded logical at first blush, the test for rectification of the Register was different for the Lordship (an incorporeal hereditament) and the Fell rights. In respect of the latter, under paragraphs 5 & 6 of the 4th schedule of Land Registration Act 2002, the locals had to prove that there was fraud or a lack of proper care by the Respondents which had substantially contributed to the mistaken registration, or that it was otherwise unjust not to alter the Register.
The first part was a question of fact and the Court of Appeal concurred with the findings at first instance that the Respondents took appropriate care.
Regarding the second part, although upholding registration of the Fell land meant a substantial windfall to the Respondents, no one else had a better claim. The Crown showed no interest in asserting title and engaging in the dispute. It was better for the Fell to be owned by someone than no one. The locals were slow in applying for rectification of the Register and the Respondents had invested time, money and effort into properly managing the Fell in the meantime. There were agreements for grazing and sporting rights on which others relied. On balance, it was not unjust to leave title to the Fell registered to the Respondents, despite the fact that it had almost certainly not been theirs before.
Helen Turnbull / 1st Nov 2013
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