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Adverse Possession and Mistakes: Baxter v Mannion

17 March 2011

In this article (first appearing in FM World magazine), Beverley Vara looks at an important adverse possession case considering whether someone who has been registered as the proprietor of land by wrongly claiming that he had been in adverse possession can retain that title if the original proprietor fails to reply to the Land Registry in time.

Background

This case concerns adverse possession which is the doctrine by which a squatter who has been in occupation of land can apply to the Land Registry to become the owner of that land, and if the true owner does not object within a stipulated timeframe, the squatter will become the owner.

The Facts

Mr Mannion bought a field in 1996 and was duly registered as its proprietor. Over the years Mr Baxter made some use of the field. In August 2005 Mr Baxter made an application to the Land Registry for registration of the field in his name claiming he had been in adverse possession of the field since 1985. The Land Registry sent a notice to Mr Mannion stating that if he objected he must say so before 8 May 2006.

Mr Mannion received the form sent by the Land Registry but did not complete it. He consulted a solicitor who said this was not his kind of expertise and before he could consult another solicitor he suffered a series of family misfortunes which distracted him from the task. It was not until 8 September that Mr Manning’s new solicitors wrote. By that stage the Land Registry had already registered Mr Baxter as owner.

Mr Mannion lodged an application for rectification saying that the alteration of title was for the purpose of “correcting a mistake”. Mr Baxter objected and the matter was referred to the Deputy Adjudicator. She heard evidence from both sides and held that Mr Baxter was not entitled to claim adverse possession. She ordered that rectification of the Register be made. Mr Baxter appealed. He said the reason that he had been registered as proprietor was as a result of the failure of Mr Mannion to object rather than because of a mistake by the Land Registry. The Judge who heard the appeal rejected that contention and agreed with the Deputy Adjudicator that the Register should be rectified. Mr Baxter took his case to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Baxter argued that the expression “correcting a mistake” had limited scope and that the intention of the Act was clear: there should be a once and for all system that produced clarity, certainty and simplicity.

What did the Court say?

The Court of Appeal did not accept this argument. They, like the Judge below them, considered that the proposed construction would be an invitation to fraud and that it was wholly improbable that Parliament could have intended that the true owner could lose his land for want of a form.

Accordingly the register will be rectified to reassert Mr Manning’s ownership.

Case Name: Baxter v Mannion [2011] EWCA Civ 120