Unionist right wing anti-squatting article

Gerrard Winstanley tony at tlio.org.uk
Mon Jan 16 18:51:26 GMT 2006

Squatters brought to book

Michael McCord - legal briefing
16 January 2006

You may have heard of the expression 'squatters title', which is the 
colloquial term used to describe the legal title acquired by someone 
who, though not the owner of land, takes possession of it to the 
exclusion of all others for a period of more than 12 years.

This can come about because the Limitation Order (NI) 1989 provides 
that where the owner of the paper title to land is dispossessed of 
that land he must bring an action to recover possession within 12 
years. If he does not he can lose his title to the squatter. 

In the case of J A Pye (Oxford) Limited v Graham (2003) 1AC419 the 
House of Lords decided that Pye had lost ownership of 23 hectares of 
valuable development land because it had been farmed by Graham, who 
was a neighbouring farmer for 12 years, before Pye objected and 
brought an action to recover the land. 

Pye took the case to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that 
the law in England violated Article 1 of the First Protocol of the 
European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to 
peaceful enjoyment of possessions. 

On November 15 last year the court decided Pye was correct. The law 
did violate the Convention because it allowed Pye to be deprived of 
ownership of the land without proper warning or compensation. 

It is important to note that the case of Pye concerned 'registered' as 
opposed to 'unregistered' land and that, since the factual situation 
giving rise to the Pye case arose, there has been a new statutory 
scheme introduced in England which makes it more difficult for a 
squatter to acquire title to registered land. 

However, as that statutory scheme does not apply in Northern Ireland, 
the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Pye is of 
critical importance here. It means the law here will have to be viewed 
in light of the Convention and in light of the decision of the 
European Court of Human Rights in Pye. 

This could mean that cases where previously squatters might have been 
able to acquire title to registered land by adverse possession will be 
more likely to be decided in favour of the registered owner. 

It is also possible that a statutory scheme, similar to the one 
introduced in England, will be introduced here in order to give owners 
of registered land better protection against squatters. 

While it will take a little time before the full ramifications of the 
decision of the Court of Human Rights in Pye are fully explored, it is 
clear that it is a decision to be welcomed by owners of registered 
land in Northern Ireland who, it seems, will now have stronger grounds 
for resisting adverse possession claims brought by squatters.

Michael McCord is a partner with Tughans Solicitors who advise on a 
range of specialist topics. For further information contact Michael by 
phone on 90-553314 or by e-mail at michael.mccord at tughans.com.

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