The Role of Adverse Possession in Modern Land Law

AuthorYui Nga Natalie Tsang
The Role of Adverse Possession in Modern Land Law
Yui Nga Natalie Tsang*
Dear Editor,
The law of adverse possession has now seemingly been prevented from serving a
relevant and useful function in modern society, largely due to legislative reforms
made by the Land Registration Act 2002 (‘LRA’). Developed from ancient Roman
origins, the concept of adverse possession now struggles to justify how a
possessor of land can completely oust a registered landowner in a civilised and
organised society. Parliament has clearly conveyed this message through the LRA,
as Schedule 6 now ensures that landowners are notified of adverse possession
claims and are further given 65 business days to challenge any applications.1 This
has made it notoriously difficult for adverse possessors to successfully acquire title
to land, as it can only be achieved if the owner fails to evict the possessor after
defeating their claim within two years,2 or if the landowners are prevented from
challenging the application under the exceptions found in Paragraph 5 of Schedule
6 LRA.3 Therefore, whilst these reforms provide a statutory footing for adverse
possession, the statutory framework fails to protect the lenient attitude historically
shown towards adverse possessors.4
Schedule 6 permits exceptions from this reformed process under the
LRA, which prevent landowners from automatically defeating the possessor’s
claims immediately after being notified by the Land Registry. These exceptions
remain param ount, as they ensure adverse possession claims still receive a fair
review and remain relevant in modern law. The first exception5 prevents
landowners from challenging an adverse possession claim if it is ‘unconscionable’6
2 Ibid, para 6(6).
3 Ibid, para 5.
4 JA Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham [2003] UKHL 30, [2002] 3 WLR 22; adverse possessors acquired
property reputedly worth £10 million.
6 Ibid para 5(2).

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