JA Pye (Oxford) Ltd v United Kingdom (44302/02)

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date04 July 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] UKHL 30
CourtHouse of Lords
Date04 July 2002
J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd

And Others


and another


[2002] UKHL 30

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Hutton



My Lords,


For the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson, which I have had the privilege of reading in draft, I would allow this appeal and restore the order of the judge. In doing so, I would echo the misgivings expressed by the judge in the closing paragraph of his judgment: [2000] Ch 676 at 709-710.


The Grahams have acted honourably throughout. They sought rights to graze or cut grass on the land after the summer of 1984, and were quite prepared to pay. When Pye failed to respond they did what any other farmer in their position would have done: they continued to farm the land. They were not at fault. But the result of Pye's inaction was that they enjoyed the full use of the land without payment for 12 years. As if that were not gain enough, they are then rewarded by obtaining title to this considerable area of valuable land without any obligation to compensate the former owner in any way at all. In the case of unregistered land, and in the days before registration became the norm, such a result could no doubt be justified as avoiding protracted uncertainty where the title to land lay. But where land is registered it is difficult to see any justification for a legal rule which compels such an apparently unjust result, and even harder to see why the party gaining title should not be required to pay some compensation at least to the party losing it. It is reassuring to learn that the Land Registration Act 2002 has addressed the risk that a registered owner may lose his title through inadvertence. But the main provisions of that Act have not yet been brought into effect, and even if they had it would not assist Pye, whose title had been lost before the passing of the Act. While I am satisfied that the appeal must be allowed for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend, this is a conclusion which I (like the judge: p 709F) "arrive at with no enthusiasm".


My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech prepared by my noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson. I agree that this appeal should be allowed for the reasons which he gives.


My Lords,


In this case the defendants, as personal representatives of the late Michael John Graham, seek to establish a possessory title to 25 hectares of agricultural land at Henwick, Thatcham, Berkshire ("the disputed land"). At all material times the paper title to that land has undoubtedly been vested in the first plaintiff J A Pye (Oxford) Land Ltd and its predecessor in title in the same group JA Pye (Oxford) Ltd ("Pye") as registered proprietors of the disputed land at Her Majesty's Land Registry. At the trial Neuberger J ([2000] Ch 676) held that the defendants had established title by possession but his decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal [2001] Ch 804 (Mummery, Keene LJJ and Sir Martin Nourse). The defendants appealed to your Lordships' House.


I will later have to deal with the law at some length but at this stage it is sufficient to highlight the essential issue. The Grahams, in order to succeed, will have to show that they "dispossessed" Pye more than 12 years before Pye started proceedings on 30 April 1998. As will appear, this requires the Grahams to prove that Pye were dispossessed between 31 August 1984 (when the Grahams' occupation ceased to be with the permission of Pye) and 30 April 1986. It is the actions and intentions of the parties during this period that will determine the proper outcome of the case.



Until 1977 Pye was the owner of Henwick Manor together with a substantial amount of surrounding land. In 1977 Pye sold the farmhouse and approximately 67 hectares of the land (Manor Farm) but retained the disputed land which was considered to have development potential. It was, and remains, Pye's intention to retain the disputed land until planning permission can be obtained for development.


The disputed land consists of four fields, the Drive Field, Hill Field, Paddocks and Wallis Field. The farmhouse at Manor Farm is approached by a private drive owned with Manor Farm which runs from a public highway to the farmhouse. Abutting the southern side of the drive is the northern boundary of the disputed land. There is a further part of the disputed land to the west of the driveway and immediately south of the farmhouse and farm buildings. The eastern boundary of the disputed land abuts the public highway. Apart from the gates I shall mention, all the boundaries of the disputed land are separated from the adjoining land by hedges.


On the eastern boundary, there is a gate from the public highway into Drive Field. That gate has been padlocked at all material times, the key to that padlock being held by Mrs Michael Graham. The hedge between the driveway and Drive Field and the Paddocks has three gates. Pye has no rights of access over the driveway. There is a fourth gate on to the disputed land on its northern boundary from the farmhouse into Hill Field. There is a public footpath going through Manor Farm and then, over a stile, through Hill Field.

Acquisition of Manor Farm


In 1982 Mr John Graham and his wife purchased Manor Farm. From then on, until his unhappy death in 1998, the farming activities at Manor Farm were the day-to-day responsibility of their son Michael Graham. Initially he was farming the land for the benefit of a family partnership but later on behalf of himself and his wife Caroline Graham.


At the time the Grahams acquired Manor Farm, they were aware that the disputed land had been used as grazing land under agreements between the owners of Manor Farm and Pye. The Grahams were aware that this disputed land was owned by Pye and had been acquired by Pye in the hope of being able to develop it in the future. As I have said, the disputed land was fully enclosed so as to exclude the whole world except for access with the use of the key held by the Grahams from the public highway and by foot over the footway that I have mentioned.

Grazing agreement


On 1 February 1983 Pye entered into a written agreement with John Graham who is described as "the Grazier". That agreement permitted use of the disputed land until 31 December 1983 in return for a payment of £2,000. It limited the use of the disputed land to grazing or mowing for one cut of grass and the grazier was obliged to restrict the use of the disputed land to the grazing of sheep, cattle and horses. He was also obliged to keep the disputed land free of weeds, the gates, fences and ditches in good order, and to use the land in a good and husband-like manner. It further provided that Mr Graham would not permit any trespass upon the land and further that he would not part with "possession" of the disputed land. It further reserved to Pye the right to terminate the agreement and gain "possession" on the service of six months' notice. It also expressly provided that any grazing after its expiry would have to be by a new and distinct contract.


The Grahams had previously enjoyed an informal licence to graze the disputed land from September 1982 until 1 February 1983. It is not clear whether the Grahams vacated the land prior to the commencement of the 1983 agreement on 1 February 1983. The Grahams occupied the land under the grazing agreement until 31 December 1983. On 30 December 1983 Mr Evans, a chartered surveyor acting for Pye, wrote to Pye suggesting that Mr John Graham be granted a fresh grazing agreement for 1984. On the same day he wrote to Mr John Graham noting that the grazing agreement was on the verge of expiration and requiring the Grahams to vacate the land. In January 1984 Pye refused the request for a grazing agreement for 1984 because they anticipated seeking planning permission for the development of all or part of the disputed land and were firmly advised that it would be sensible for them to have the disputed land in hand at the time of the proposed planning application and the planning appeal which would almost certainly ensue. The Grahams were also led to believe that Pye would soon be making an application for planning permission and did not want the disputed land to be grazed because such grazing, in Pye's view, might damage the prospects of obtaining permission. No change of attitude on the part of Pye was ever communicated to the Grahams.


Notwithstanding the requirement to vacate the land at the expiry of the 1983 agreement on 31 December 1983, the Grahams remained in occupation on 1 January 1984 and have remained in occupation at all times since that date. Even though there was no grazing agreement in place in 1984, Michael Graham spread dung and loose housing straw on the disputed land during the winter of 1983/84. He was aware at the time he was spreading the dung that he was doing so at his own risk as a grazing agreement for 1984 might not be forthcoming.


In approximately March 1984 the Grahams turned cattle out on to the disputed land and left them to graze until about November 1984. He harrowed, rolled and fertilised the land and spread dung and straw in February and March 1984. He did this on the basis that it was his intention to carry on using the land for grazing until requested not to do so. No request to vacate or to pay for the grazing which was taking place was made. If it had been made, Michael Graham would happily have paid. He took advantage of the ability to use the disputed land as no one challenged him and he was keen not to waste the effort that he had put into preparing the grazing during 1983 and over the winter of...

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