The courts will assist but not protect litigants in person By Richard Forskitt, Associate Solicitor…
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Boundary disputes are well known for their ability to create acrimony and long-running legal proceedings, the cost of which is often disproportionate compared with the value of the land in question. In one case in which compromise sadly proved elusive, an apparently minor falling out over a right of way had to be resolved at great expense by a High Court judge.
There was no dispute that property developers who owned a former poultry farm had a right of way over a couple’s adjoining land. The precise location of the boundary between the two properties was, however, disputed and the developers had accused the couple of reducing, or otherwise interfering with, their right of way.
In ruling on the case following a four-day hearing, the judge preferred the couple’s evidence and upheld their arguments as to the location of the boundary. She also, amongst other things, rejected the developers’ claims that the couple had reduced the width of the right of way by failing to maintain trees and shrubbery.
However, a gate that the couple had installed did amount to an interference with the right of way. The judge ordered them to pay nominal damages of £1 in respect of the gate and issued an injunction requiring its removal. The developers, however, were directed to pay £300 in damages for having removed another gate from the right of way that was the couple’s property. The net £299 payable by the developers to the couple was dwarfed by the very substantial legal costs of the case.
Says Paul Currie, “It may seem improbable that a dispute over such a small issue can wind up being a four-day-long argument in court, but unless such disagreements are skilfully mediated, that can be the result. If you have a potential problem involving rights over land or property boundaries, it is important to seek professional assistance quickly, before the tone of the dispute renders a mediated solution impossible.”