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Mummery LJ tries to keep neighbours out of courts

Boundary disputes risk 'litigation blight' to properties and 'human misery'

27 February 2012

Lord Justice Mummery has tried for the third time to warn neighbours from pursuing damaging boundary disputes through the courts, saying they risk “immeasurable human misery”.

The appeal judge called for greater use to be made of mediation in neighbour disputes in 2008 and attacked the “absence of any compromise” by neighbours in 2010 (see solicitorsjournal.com, 29 July 2008 and 2 August 2010). The latest target of his ire was a dispute between neighbours in Peckham, south London, over a gravel strip between a mews house and a terraced house.

“Suing and being sued by neighbours is a stressful and unpleasant experience,” Mummery LJ said. “Bad feelings all round do not finish with the final judgment.

“The lawsuit could have unwanted long-term consequences that a sensible compromise might have avoided. One side ‘wins’ at trial, and/or on appeal, but, in the long run, both sides lose if, for instance, litigation blight has damaged the prospects of selling up and moving elsewhere.”

Mummery LJ described the disputed land as a “gravel strip of small size and little money value”.

However, he said “financial factors do not seem to count for much” when parties are protecting what they believe belongs to them.

“The territorial imperative is the driver in boundary litigation,” he said. “If the court’s warnings are ignored, there will one day be a final reckoning of the total expenditure and immeasurable human misery, and the hoary maxim ‘he that goes to law holds a wolf by the ears’ will strike a chord.”

Delivering the leading judgment in Cameron v Boggiano and another [2012] EWCA Civ 157, Lord Justice Mummery said both sides claimed ownership of the strip, which “ran along the side of the wall of a single-storey extension constructed over the whole width of the back of No.60”, the house owned by Angela Boggiano and Craig Robertson.

He said that because the soil of the disputed area was covered by gravel and was not cobbled like the rest of the courtyard, it should be referred to as the “gravel strip”.

Boggiano and Robertson argued that the gravel strip and brick column built into the corner of their extension were part of No.60.

Devon Cameron said the gravel strip and brick column were on and part of the courtyard area acquired by him on the purchase of No.7, a brick-built mews property.

Mummery LJ dismissed Cameron’s appeal against the High Court’s ruling that the strip belonged to Boggiano and Robertson.

He agreed that plan A was the “defining document” in the dispute but he allowed the defendants’ cross-appeal, so that plan C, which very clearly showed that the strip was not part of the claimant’s property, could also be used as evidence. Lord Justices Rimer and McFarlane agreed.

Jonathan Hill, partner at JH Powell & Co in Derby, acted for Angela Boggiano. He said it would be inappropriate for him to make any comment while there were still issues to be dealt with by the courts, principally the costs of the litigation. A spokeswoman for Berrymans Lace Mawer, which acted for Cameron, also said she was unable to comment at this stage.