Land borders have a rich but unfortunately volatile history. We might be tempted to think that we live in relatively peaceful times, and that could well be true, however, few would deny that landlocked nations defined by lines drawn on a map have probably enjoyed less stability than those marked by geographical features such as rivers, seas and oceans.
In this respect, the island of Great Britain might be considered as fortunate, with its boundaries being clearly defined from reading a map right down to ground level observations. However, with that fortune comes a different kind of border problem: a very much finite supply of land. This leaves an ever-expanding population with fewer places to go, and an ever-increasing demand for houses becomes more difficult to accommodate.
Unfortunately, the concept of a boundary dispute is very familiar to lawyers practising in Britain compared to countries where the availability of land is far more generous, such as Australia or North America. As with landlocked countries, the legal profession in Britain has itself witnessed a long and unwelcome history of disputes arising between adjacent land owners who both stake claim to the same piece of land.
The Land Registry keeps a record of boundaries by way of survey plans; however, like any line drawn on a map, the reality at ground level could be different. For this reason, title plans should be treated more as useful guidance rather than absolutely definitive.
If two neighbours cannot agree on the position of the line which divides their respective properties, the title plans will hopefully resolve their concern; however, where it does not, they can seek a declaration from the land tribunal (or court) as to where their boundaries should lie. Frequently, the tribunal will invite evidence from land experts (i.e. surveyors) and both the history and physical features of the boundaries, will be used by the tribunal to determine the true position.
Seeking legal advice will aid the resolution of disputes while ensuring neither party gives up their true entitlement to land or at least not without understanding that is what they might be doing.
In an effort to inject an even more systematic process to the resolution of boundary disputes, currently before Parliament is a Bill which proposes a protocol of steps that all parties should take before submitting any claims to a court or tribunal. Primarily, the protocol would oblige parties to instruct surveyors (or a joint survey) to offer proposed resolutions of the boundaries in dispute, before a claim could arise. The protocol would be welcomed by the legal profession and would stand to benefit parties to a boundary dispute in much the same way that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 has aided the resolution of party wall disputes. Either way, the protocol recognises that (interior) boundary disputes are unfortunately likely to be a permanent feature of Britain’s geography, and our focus should be upon making the resolution of such disputes as quick and as cost effective as possible.
This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.