In a ruling of interest to landowners and property lawyers, a gypsy squatting on a plot of Surrey wasteland has failed to convince the High Court that, on a correct reading of section 15 of the Land Registration Act 2002, he is entitled to register a caution against first registration of the site.
The gypsy had planning permission to occupy the site in his caravan but, having only lived there since October 2007, was some years short of the 12 years of occupation required before he could seek ownership of the land by adverse possession. As he tended to travel during the summer months there was some doubt as to whether he could establish adverse possession in any event.
In the circumstances, he applied to the Chief Land Registrar to register a caution against first registration of the land. His motive for doing so was his concern to be notified by the registrar if an application for first registration were made so that he could object to it prior to be it being granted. He was anxious that such an application could be made on the basis of a false or fraudulent assertion of title.
The registrar refused to register the caution and, in dismissing the gypsy’s appeal, the court ruled that he was correct to do so. The court noted that, by section 15(1) of the act, such a caution could only be registered by the owner of a qualifying estate in land, or someone entitled to an interest affecting a qualifying estate, and that the gypsy could not be viewed as falling within either of those categories.
Observing that a caution against first registration is a procedural safeguard and ‘is not intended to provide a substitute’ for first registration itself, the court ruled that the matter was conclusively determined by section 1(1) of the Law of Property Act 1925 which establishes that only two kinds of estate in land are capable of subsisting in law – an estate in fees simply absolute in possession and a term of years absolute.
The gypsy also argued that the registrar’s refusal amounted to a breach of his right to respect for his home under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, dismissing that submission, the court noted that the risk of someone making a defective or fraudulent claim to title was relatively remote and that the gypsy would in any event retain a right to challenge such a title if registered.