During my seat in the Agriculture team, I was fortunate enough to assist on a possession claim issued in the County Court, which culminated in a three-day trial.
The purpose of the case was to determine our client’s (the “Claimant”) entitlement to possession of land, of which he is the registered legal owner. The Defendant brought a counter-claim on the basis that he had acquired title to the land by adverse possession; alternatively, he claimed a right to it based on the doctrine of proprietary estoppel.
A registered legal title owner is entitled to possession of such land, unless another party is able to prove that he has a better title to it.
The facts of this case were so unique I doubt I will ever come across something similar again.
The land is question has been within the ownership of the Claimant’s family for generations, forming part of the family farm.
At some point in the past, the Defendant did not have anywhere to live and so he approached a member of the Claimant’s family and asked if he could pitch a tent somewhere on the farm. The Claimant’s family agreed that the Defendant could occupy a small parcel of land on the farm in exchange for a nominal rent.
Initially, the Defendant pitched a tent on the land, as agreed, but progressively the Defendant sought to make his living accommodation more permanent, first by erecting an extension to the tent and latterly by constructing a wooden cabin from recycled materials.
The Defendant fell into rental arrears and after an extensive period of grace (some several years) the Claimant served notice on the Defendant to terminate the tenancy.
The Defendant did not comply with the terms of the notice to quit and so the Claimant issued a claim for possession. The Defendant counter-claimed, in two different ways:
A three day trial took place in the County Court, where live witness evidence was heard.
The Court had to consider several factors in determining the outcome of the case, including whether there was a valid tenancy and whether the Defendant had been in continuous and uninterrupted adverse possession of the whole land for a period of 12 years before it was registered. The witness evidence and cross-examination by each side’s Barrister were key in relation to this. The Judge needed to decide whether the Defendant’s use of the land was possessory and whether their use of the land was permissive, i.e. with the consent of the landowner.
After considering all the witness and documentary evidence, the court ruled in favour of the Claimant and awarded possession.
Some of the work I undertook on this case included:
Looking back on this case, it was a great and invaluable experience, where I was able to contribute meaningfully and work closely with our instructed Barrister. There were various evidential hurdles that had to be overcome, so it was great to be part of the team that got a successful result for the client.