Boundary disputes between neighbours are a regular fixture for civil litigation lawyers. There are a number of different ways in which a boundary dispute can arise, and there are no formal Pre-Action Protocols as set down by the Civil Procedure Rules that provide guidance as to how parties should approach such a dispute. There are however a number of factors that often add complexity to what, to the onlooker, should be a simple matter to resolve.
In many cases, relations between the neighbouring parties will have broken down completely over the issue, and for both parties "the principle" becomes a key point. Neither party wants to back down. Legal proceedings are issued, expert surveyor evidence is called and thousands of pounds are spent by the parties on fees. The case takes months, possibly over a year, to get to trial, at which point the Trial Judge typically questions why the parties could not have negotiated a settlement months ago, avoiding the use of Court time and saving themselves a lot of money in the process.
Tentative steps are now being taken to try to manage and to avoid the problems caused by lengthy and expensive boundary disputes.
In September, the Boundary Dispute Protocol was launched. This Protocol has been drafted by Barristers at Falcon Chambers and Solicitors at Hogan Lovells, and is supported by the Property Litigation Association. It is open to parties in dispute to follow the terms of the Protocol, which essentially provides for a streamlined process whereby the parties are encouraged to exchange relevant case information early and to attempt to settle the matter without the need for the issue of legal proceedings, or in some cases without professional representation, keeping costs to a minimum.
Further, a Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill is currently being considered in the House of Lords. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for an alternative to Court for the determination of boundary disputes and rights of way disputes by providing for expert determination by qualified surveyors. Again, the principle is that the proposal will allow for a quicker, cheaper method of resolution of disputes than is allowed for in the current process. At this point, it is not known whether the Bill will be passed and if it is, whether any amendments will be made to it beforehand.
Anything that helps the parties to a boundary dispute to achieve a swift resolution, at minimal expense, is of course to be welcomed. The fact remains however that evidence in boundary disputes can be complex and where the parties in dispute have fallen out completely, obtaining a negotiated settlement, that is satisfactory to both parties, can be easier said than done. The role of the lawyer in achieving settlement of such disputes is likely to remain significant.
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