Squatters rights withdrawn by European Court

Ecovillage Network UK office at evnuk.org.uk
Mon Nov 21 18:21:58 GMT 2005

European Court of Human Rights makes landmark ruling to WITHDRAW Human 
Rights of the individual in favour of Developers and Landlords.

Court overturns squatters' rights on land worth millions
· Strasbourg ruling favours development company
· Government told to negotiate compensation

Clare Dyer, legal editor
Monday November 21, 2005
The Guardian

Taxpayers face a compensation bill that could total millions of pounds 
after a ruling that "squatters' rights" laws breached the human rights 
of a property development firm.

The ruling last week from the European court of human rights in 
Strasbourg is a rare example of a judgment upholding the human rights of 
a company rather than an individual.

In what one lawyer described as "Britain's biggest land grab", JA Pye 
(Oxford) Limited lost 23 hectares of prime land worth up to £21m to a 
farmer who had used it for grazing for 12 years. Under the law of 
"adverse possession", the House of Lords ruled in 2002 that the farmer, 
Caroline Graham, was entitled to the land without paying a penny.

The Strasbourg judges ruled by four to three that the company's right to 
enjoyment of its property was breached by Britain's failure to change 
the law to protect landowners. They left it to the government to try to 
negotiate compensation with the developers, failing which the case will 
go back to Strasbourg for a ruling.

The government argued in court that public funds should not be used "to 
indemnify a corporate property developer against the consequences of its 
own incompetence". It said the company's loss should not be put at much 
more than £1m, applying a discount for its failure over 12 years to 
protect its title to the land.

Pye has obtained a valuation of £10m, taking into account the prospect 
of planning permission for development. With permission the land could 
be worth £21m. It also wants the government to pay the £1m costs it 
incurred taking the case through the English and Strasbourg courts.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "We're studying the 
judgment and considering our next move."

The law lords ruled three years ago that the 23 hectares (about 57 
acres) of agricultural land at Henwick Manor, Thatcham, near Newbury, 
Berkshire, belonged to Ms Graham, who with her husband, Michael, had 
used it as grazing land. Mr Graham died in a shooting accident in 1998 
but Mrs Graham carried on his claim for the land.

The lords held that she was entitled to keep the land under the ancient 
law of adverse possession - squatters' rights - which allow an occupier 
to claim property as his own if he has occupied it without the owner's 
permission for 12 years. The law, described by Pye as "legalised 
robbery", was changed in 2002 but the change was not retrospective.

The Grahams occupied the land under a grazing agreement with Pye, but in 
1984 the company refused a further agreement because it wanted to 
develop the land. However, the Grahams continued to use the land and in 
1997 Mr Graham registered cautions at the land registry claiming to have 
acquired title by squatters' rights.

Legal action followed, which the Grahams initially won in the high 
court. Pye got the ruling overturned by the court of appeal, but the 
House of Lords ruled in the Grahams' favour, a decision Lord Bingham, 
the senior law lord, said he had reached "with no enthusiasm".

The Strasbourg judges said the squatters' rights law might have been 
justified before land was registered to avoid lengthy disputes over 
ownership. But where land was registered, it was "difficult to see any 
justification for a legal rule which led to such an unjust result".

The result for the company was "one of exceptional severity", the judges 
added. The taking of property in the public interest without payment of 
compensation was justified only in exceptional circumstances, they said.

Squatters' rights law ruled unfair
By Frances Gibb
Property owners are entitled to compensation for their losses
THE ancient legal principle of squatters’ rights has been dealt a blow 
by a European ruling that people stripped of their properties under the 
law of adverse possession should be paid compensation.

The European Court of Human Rights ruling could lead to the Government 
paying out millions when owners lose their properties to others who have 
had use of them over a period of years. Even though safeguards were 
introduced under the Land Registration Act 2002 so that owners have to 
be notified if a tenant wants to claim title, giving the owners a chance 
to fight to keep their property, scores of claims are still being 
brought under the old law of adverse possession.

The case was brought by property developers who lost a plot of land in 
Berkshire worth at least £10 million to a family of farmers who acquired 
squatters’ rights after being allowed to graze cattle there for more 
than 12 years. The court ruled last week that the company, J. A. Pye 
(Oxford) Ltd, should be compensated for the loss of its 23 hectares (56 

Mark Loveday, a barrister specialising in property law, said: “This 
ruling tears up 180 years of the law on adverse possession. It says that 
there must be a right to compensation if people lose their property — 
which was not the case under the old law. But there is still no right to 
compensation under the new Land Registration Act 2002, so I think that 
also may have to be looked at.”

Three years ago the House of Lords ruled that Caroline Graham and her 
father Charles Denton had acquired title to the plot, which would be 
worth up to £20 million with planning permission. The plot bordered 
their farm at Henwick Manor, Thatcham, and the developers, J. A. Pye, 
had let the family use it while it negotiated with local planners to 
build homes.

But the Strasbourg court ruled that the law of adverse possession that 
had allowed the family to acquire the land violated article one, 
protocol one, of the European Convention on Human Rights, which 
safeguards a person’s right to property. It concluded that people could 
not have their property taken away without due compensation, unless the 
circumstances were exceptional.

The court said that the relevant Acts of Parliament that had deprived 
the property developers of their title to the registered land “imposed 
an individual and excessive burden”.

The court reserved any decision on the amount of compensation — likely 
to be between £5 million and £10 million — but indicated that in the 
meantime agreement could be reached between the Government and the 

Since the Lords ruling the Government has brought in the Land 
Registration Act to change the law on adverse possession so that 
squatters have to give notice before claiming title to registered 
property; but Mr Lowe said that the problem could still arise with 
unregistered land, as it was difficult to know who the owners were.

Mr Loveday said that people bringing claims of adverse possession were 
doing so under the old law based on the rights they had acquired before 
the 2002 Act came into force. The ruling would now be used to defend 
those claims, he said; but if people still lost properties, the 
Government could face more compensation claims.

A Georgian townhouse in Covent Garden worth £20 million was occupied by 
squatters in 2002. The owners secured an eviction order.

A disused police station in Stepney, East London, which once held the 
Kray twins, was taken over by squatters in 2004. A claim for trespass 
was obtained and the police broke in.

Milly Martinson, 85, was locked out of her home by squatters after 
leaving for several weeks to care for her sister. One of the intruders 
was jailed for four months.

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