R on the application of Smith v The Land Registry and Cambridgeshire County Council (2010) Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim to title by adverse possession of part of a public highway. The court concluded there was no rule at common law or in statute which supported an argument that a squatter could adversely possess a highway and thereby extinguish public rights over the highway. In addition, abandonment or lack of use by the public does not extinguish the rights. A person seeking to extinguish public rights must use one of the methods set out in the Highways Act 1980.

The most that could happen would be for the squatter to acquire title but subject to the rights of the public to use the highway. However, this could only apply in the case of a highway not maintainable at public expense. Where the highway authority is under a duty to maintain the highway, the effect of section 263 Highways Act is to prevent the squatter obtaining.