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General boundaries rule

The general boundaries rule, which was previously contained in the Land Registry Rules, is reproduced in s60 of the Land Registration Act 2002.


Alteration of the register in boundary disputes

Re-emphasis of general boundaries rule

Drake v Fripp
[2011] EWCA Civ 1279

Summary

The case re-emphasises that the boundary line on a title is only a "general boundary" and is not intended to show the precise boundary between the two properties.

Facts

It was common ground that the title plan at HM Land Registry showed the disputed part of the land as registered to that parcel which had originally been retained in 1996. The question was posed as to whether the title plan could be altered so as to give effect to the proper interpretation of the transfer.

The power to alter the register is contained in Schedule 4 to the LRA 2002. A sub-species of alteration is what the schedule calls “rectification”. This is defined by paragraph 1 as alterations where a mistake is being corrected that will prejudicially affect the title of the registered proprietor. If the alteration falls within this section “rectification” is restricted – see Schedule 4 paragraph 3(2) and 6(2). If it does not the restrictions do not apply. In this case there would be the correction of a mistake, but the more difficult question was whether there was any prejudice to the registered owner. It was held that the answer to that question depended on whether the registered owner acquired titled to the disputed land as a consequence of the way in which the file plan was drawn.

The title owner argued that there was prejudice because they had lost 1 ½ acres without compensation. At the time the title was registered the Land Registration Act 1925 applied. Under that Act the Land Registration Rules under Rule 278 provided that except where it was noted on the Property Register that the boundaries had been fixed, the filed plan was deemed only to indicate the general boundary. The Rule further provided that in such cases where there is no determination the issue of the exact line of a boundary whether it includes a hedge or wall or ditch etc would be left undetermined.

Decision

Section 60 of the LRA 2002 has now replaced Rule 278 and provides:
    “(1) the boundary of a registered estate as shown for the purposes of the register is a general boundary, unless shown as determined under this section. (2) a general boundary does not determine the exact line of the boundary”.
Lewison LJ held that in substance this is the same as the former rule. But even if he was wrong about that the revocation of the 1925 rules could not have enlarged the registered owner’s title. Rule 278 stated that the matters left undetermined included how far a boundary ran beyond a hedge wall or fence. Once the boundary had been determined it could be seen that the registered owner had never had title to the 1 ½ acres and thus there was no argument that the acres had been lost.

Lewison LJ also rejected the contention that the quantity of land that might be encompassed in a boundary dispute was limited. It must depend on all the circumstances and in particular the quantity of land abutting the boundary. A dispute over a strip of land a few centimetres wide but running the whole length of a railway or canal would plainly be a boundary dispute even if the area involved many hectares.

It didn’t matter whether the dispute was between two physical features of the land or an imaginary line. There was no prejudice to the title owner and therefore there was no restriction on the adjudicator’s power to direct the Land Registrar to alter the title plan. Lewinson LJ at para 22:
    "The boundary currently shown on the title plan is a general boundary. If the title plan is altered so as to show the boundary running along the line of the fence it will still be a general boundary."


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