Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill’
There is an old adage that “an Englishman’s home is his castle” and it is no surprise therefore that property disputes can be some of the more stressful and expensive forms of litigation around.
Boundary disputes, in particular, can be particularly vicious, with neighbours falling out and litigating for years over relatively minor issues, such as whether the boundary fence goes this or that side of a tree.
Accordingly, practitioners have welcomed the news that the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill (“the Bill”), which has slowly been making its way through Parliament since 2012, might finally become law in the close future.
The Bill aims to introduce a faster and more cost-effective process for resolving boundary disputes. The current process has long been criticised for being too costly and detrimental to both neighbourly relationships and to the value of the land itself. The Bill seeks to encourage the parties to instruct surveyors at an early stage to determine the precise location of the boundary, rather than taking up precious court time and resources.
The Bill is not without its critics, including those who note that it only applies to freeholders, potentially leaving many leaseholders (particularly those with long leases) without the opportunity to resolve boundary disputes. In addition, the Bill is based on an assumption that boundary disputes are often a question of fact; it fails to consider that some surveyors can lack the expertise to deal with legal issues (such as adverse possession) that can arise from such a dispute.
However, it must be noted that the purpose of the Bill is not to make the surveyor’s determination final; if the parties are unsatisfied with such a determination they can still follow the traditional procedure by appealing to the High Court. The Bill aims to ensure that, if the dispute was to proceed to court, the surveyor’s interpretation would accelerate and simplify the court’s task. It is also hoped that surveyors would work in conjunction with lawyers from an early stage to ensure that any complex property issues are properly dealt with and that the dispute can be resolved as quickly, cheaply and amicably as possible.