In Strachey v Ramage, the parties disputed the boundary between a farmhouse and some neighbouring fields. The two pieces of land were in common ownership until 1988, when the farmhouse was sold off, followed by a sale of the fields to a different purchaser a few months later. At the time of the sales, both properties were unregistered, although they subsequently became registered.
Ms Strachey was the current owner of the fields. She sought a declaration that the boundary was marked by a fence that been erected by the common vendor in 1988. She further sought alteration of both filed plans at Land Registry to reflect what she contended was the true boundary. Her case rested on how the conveyance of the first part of the land to be sold off, the farmhouse, should be interpreted.
The plan attached to the conveyance of the farmhouse showed an area of land which included the fence as forming part of the property being sold. However, the plan was marked for identification purposes only. This means that it is not intended to identify precise boundaries, and in the event of a conflict between the plan and the written description of the property, the latter will prevail.
Since the written description in the conveyance of the farmhouse was inadequate, the court held that the document must be viewed as a whole. In the conveyance, the vendor agreed to maintain the fence that he had erected. The court found that this provision would make no sense if the land on which the fence stood had formed part of the property being sold off. Even if that had been the parties' intention, the vendor would have needed a right of access to carry out maintenance, and no such right had been reserved. The conveyance also described the fence as being a "boundary fence".
Having reached the conclusion that the land properly belonged to Ms Strachey, the court then had to consider the question of whether to order the filed plans at Land Registry to be altered.
A similar issue was before the court in the case of Derbyshire County Council v Fallon. In that case the court considered the effect of the general boundaries rule. The general boundaries rule provides that boundaries as shown on the register are general only and do not show the exact line of a boundary, unless an application has been made to determine them under the Land Registration Act.
Certain protections are given to registered proprietors to prevent an alteration to the register which prejudicially affects their title. However, if the alteration does not affect the title, these protections will not apply. The court in Derbyshire County Council v Fallon held that the effect of the general boundaries rule is that making an alteration to a filed plan to remove land in these circumstances does not affect the title. It merely produces another general boundary in a more accurate position than the current general boundary.
On that basis, the court in the present case ordered that the titles should be altered so as to show Ms Strachey of the proprietor of the land including the fence.
Things to consider
There does not appear to be a limit on the extent of land which can potentially be affected by the general boundaries rule. In this case the area of land in dispute was approximately 12 feet by 24 feet. In Derbyshire County Council v Fallon it was even larger. Buyers should check the Land Registry plan against the position on the ground, and look for discrepancies. Unfortunately, because of the general boundaries rule, even this will not be conclusive.