Three Court of Appeal judges have expressed dismay after two wealthy couples blew £500,000 on a ‘toxic’ dispute over little more than a few feet of muddy ditch. Neither couple achieved an outright victory in the ‘Dickensian’ neighbours’ dispute which the Court described as an absurd waste of effort, time and money.
The row between the couples centred on a ditch and bridle path which ran between their substantial homes. Couple A succeeded in convincing a judge that they owned the ditch and that the boundary of their land fell at the mid-point of the path. They also established a vehicular right of way along the path; however, their neighbours, couple B, appealed.
The Court allowed couple B’s appeal on the boundary issue, ruling them the rightful owners of the path’s entire width. However, couple A’s right of way over the path was upheld, although the Court emphasised that it is for agricultural purposes only and that they could only drive eastwards out of their gateway.
Both couples had lavished six-figure sums on a total of 13 days in court – ‘more than some murder trials’. Describing the dispute as 'depressingly unfortunate', the Court noted that the sums expended were ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the value of the rights at stake and starkly revealed the ‘enmity of the parties’.
One of the judges stated, "If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so. I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes...to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost, for both parties, which this case has involved."