The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the granting of "squatters' rights" to a widow over land previously belonging to a property developer on the grounds that she and her late husband had actual possession of it for a sufficiently long time did not breach the property developer's right to peaceful enjoyment of its property.
The widow and her late husband were farmers and had cultivated the land in question for over twelve years, during which time the property developers still owned the land. Under the law of "adverse possession", this is enough time to extinguish the former owner's right to re-enter the property or to recover possession. The farmers made a claim for possession of the land in 1997 and, following a series of court proceedings, were ultimately granted possession by the House of Lords in 2002.
Later that year, the UK Land Registration Act 2002 amended the law on adverse possession, making such claims much harder to establish. The property developers, JA Pye, then brought a claim against the UK in the European Court of Human Rights arguing that by its delay in amending the law of adverse possession, the UK had breached its human right to peaceful enjoyment of its possessions (article 1 of protocol 1 of the ECHR).
The European Court of Human Rights initially held, by a slim majority of four votes to three, in favour of the developer and ruled that the UK ought to compensate the developer for its loss. The UK Government then challenged that decision, which was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights' Grand Chamber.