In the widely
reported case of Best v The Chief Land Registrar
the High Court concluded that section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and
Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is irrelevant to the adverse possession regime
affecting registered land. As outlined in our earlier plog. post, since 1
September 2012 squatting in a residential building has been a criminal offence,
punishable by prison and/or a fine.
The facts of
the case were that Mr Best had entered residential property at some point in
the 1990s and following the death of the legal owner. The property was standing
empty and had been vandalised. Mr Best proceeded to carry out substantial works
with the intention of making the property his permanent residence, and on 27
November 2012 he applied to be registered as the proprietor of the property
relying on 10 years’ adverse possession of the property.
found that the coming into effect of section 144 prevented Mr Best from making
out his claim: as from that date Mr Best’s possession was a criminal offence,
and this meant he could no longer rely on the adverse possession regime to
sought a judicial review of that decision, and the High Court found that the
Registrar had made a mistake of law concerning the effect of section 144 on the
adverse possession regime. In the High Court’s view, if Parliament had intended
section 144 to affect the adverse possession regime it would have made
provision for this in the legislation criminalising residential squatters.
Court’s decision has been reported as controversial, with Mr Best’s neighbours
apparently concerned that trespass had led to a free house for Mr Best. The
High Court, however, was satisfied that the adverse possession regime balances
the interests of the dispossessed owner against the public interest of ensuring
that title to land can be ascertained where there has been a long period of
possession without any attempt of eviction by the dispossessed owner.
conclusion must be that even if a squatter is committing a criminal offence by
occupying residential property, he or she may still be able to acquire title by
adverse possession. Accordingly, dispossessed owners need to take action if
their property is occupied by squatters, and must not let matters drift.
by Amy Rogers, Associate