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A recent case in the Court of Appeal illustrates the extent to which property owners will go to protect what they perceive to be the boundaries of their property, which in this instance led Lord Justice Mummery to refer to ‘the territorial imperative [being] the driver in boundary litigation’. In some cases, that imperative pushes those involved in disputes to take their cases to the County Court and beyond, with a financial outlay which, as LJ Mummery remarked in his summing-up, ‘is almost always more than the disputed property is worth’.
The case arose from a dispute between a Mr Cameron, who owned a mews property in Peckham, London, and an area of cobbled courtyard in front of it (number 7), and his neighbours, Miss Boggiano and Mr Robertson, who owned a three-storey terraced property which backed onto the courtyard (number 60). The dispute concerned the ownership of a strip of land of about four feet in width in the corner of the courtyard. It was alleged by Mr Cameron that the boundary between his property and number 60 ran in a straight line along the wall at the back of his neighbours’ property, whilst the defendants alleged that the boundary ran along the line of a drain four feet away from the wall.
At the hearing in the County Court, the trial judge found that although the plan in the title deeds clearly showed the boundary running along the wall, the deeds should be rectified as, owing to a mistake, they did not show the true boundary, which followed the line of the drain.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal ruled that the plan accompanying the deeds was not clear and that regard must be taken of the position on the ground because of the plan’s ambiguity. When the position on the ground was taken into account, the boundary did in fact lie along the line of the drain.
LJ Mummery felt that it was highly regrettable that the case had reached court at all – particularly given the stress on the parties and the costs of litigating in the Court of Appeal. As he said, ‘he that goes to law holds a wolf by the ears’: anyone wishing to tame the wolf should take advice on the merits of a potential case at the earliest opportunity.