Boundary disputes – again?

A recently decided case in the Court of Appeal (Cameron .v. Boggiano) has ruled that, in cases where the boundaries of a property are not clearly shown on the plan attached to a Conveyance or Transfer, it is permissible to make use of extrinsic topographical evidence when considering, with map in hand, the appropriate boundary for that property.

The case in question involved a dispute over the boundary line between two neighbouring properties.  Unfortunately, the plan attached to the Transfer of one of those properties was not very clear due to its small scale, lack of measurements, thickness of black lines and poor colouring etc.  The Court held that it was acceptable to consider extrinsic evidence which could include the physical features of the land at the material time and evidence of subsequent conduct.

The test to be applied in circumstances such as these is ‘what would the reasonable layman reading the contract and the plan think he was buying?’  In this case, a reasonable layman would not know from looking at the plan alone whether the black lines marked on the plan followed actual physical features, or were merely imaginary lines drawn on paper.

Giving the leading judgment in the case, Lord Justice Mummery warned of the dangers of litigation between neighbours and commented that ‘six days in Court is a long time to spend on evidence and argument about who owned a gravel strip of small size and little money value.’

This case certainly serves to demonstrate the importance of using a clear and accurate transfer plan.  However, it now appears that, in practice, boundary disputes will fall to be determined far more by the application of a best fit of physical features on the ground with the conveyance plan rather than by a slavish application of the verbal description and plan contained in the Conveyance.

Can more disputes be avoided in the first place?  Perhaps if there was more communication between neighbours, and especially before any works are undertaken which rely on the boundary being in a position which may not be clear to the adjoining owner.

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