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Mummery LJ warns of 'immeasurable human misery' of boundary disputes

22 February 2012

Lord Justice Mummery has warned neighbours that they risk “immeasurable human misery” by pursuing their boundary disputes through the courts.

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.

“The court would be failing in its duty if it did not draw on the extensive experience, which it has acquired impartially, to warn others that the only certainty in this kind of case is that the financial outlay is almost always more than the disputed property is worth.”

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 Robertson [2012] EWCA Civ 157, Lord Justice Mummery said both sides claimed ownership of the strip.

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

Mummery LJ 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.