Key points

  • The general boundaries rule means that the boundaries shown on a Land Registry title plan are general only and not definitive
  • There is no limit to the extent of land which can be affected by the rule

The general boundaries rule

In June's edition of Property Update, we reviewed the case of Paton v Todd. This was a case considering the application of the general boundaries rule.

The general boundaries rule means that the boundaries shown on a Land Registry title plan are general only, and do not show the precise location of the boundary. The rule can come into play where an application is made to alter the register to change the location of the boundary to correct an error.

The court has more limited powers to correct a mistake on the register where the correction would amount to "rectification", and the registered proprietor is in possession of the land in question. Rectification is defined in the Land Registration Act 2002 as the correction of a mistake which would prejudicially affect the title of a registered proprietor.

However, in a line of decisions including Derbyshire County Council v Fallon, Strachey v Ramage and Drake v Fripp, the court has ruled that an alteration to the boundary on the title plan will not necessarily prejudicially affect the title of the proprietor. This is because the boundary on the plan was only ever general in the first place.

Until Paton v Todd, there appeared to be no limit to the extent of land which can be affected by the general boundaries rule. In Drake v Fripp for example, one and a half acres was in dispute.

In Paton v Todd the High Court muddied the waters somewhat, by suggesting that there was a distinction between a boundary dispute on the one hand (which would not amount to rectification of the register for the reasons explained above), and a property dispute on the other (which could do so).

The court thought that the ratio of the area of the land in dispute to the area of the other land in the registered title may be a relevant consideration in categorising a dispute.

Prashar v Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

However, in Prashar v Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, the High Court has again affirmed the decision in Drake v Fripp. It rejected a suggestion that the alteration did not fall within the general boundaries rule, and amounted to rectification, owing to the substantial acreage of the land involved.

In Prashar the disputed area ran almost the entire length of the two titles which were affected, and for that reason was a significant area. The court thought that it was, nonetheless, simply a dispute as to whether the line of the general boundary as shown on the title plan had been drawn in the correct place and, if not, where the line of the general boundary should more accurately be shown.

Things to consider

While rejecting the idea of an upper limit on the quantity of land which could be encompassed in a boundary dispute, the judge in Drake v Fripp did suggest that it would 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, say, a railway or canal would plainly be a boundary dispute even if the area involved was many hectares.

The general boundaries rule has an understandable foundation. The scale of most Land Registry plans does not enable the Registry to define the boundaries with pinpoint accuracy. Nonetheless, the rule will be unpalatable to many landowners because of the lack of certainty it creates, owing to the fact that the title plan cannot be completely relied upon.

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