Court of Appeal stresses need for caution on costs

28 February, 2012

The two recent cases of Cameron v Boggiano and Beech v Kennerley give neighbours cause to pause before allowing events to escalate beyond the point of no return. In the Cameron case, the neighbours were fighting over a 4 foot gravel strip. The case is another reminder of the principle that extrinsic evidence (features on the ground and the apparent intention of the parties) will only be considered if the transfer document (and plan) is unclear in some way. Unusually, the Court of Appeal went out of its way to make the point that, in boundary litigation, the costs will almost always exceed the value of the disputed land and that a sensible compromise ought to have been found. In the Beech case, the parties were fighting over (among other issues) the position of the boundary. As is often the case, the court found that the boundary ran down the centre line of the hedge that divided the properties. One wonders whether the parties felt it was worth the fight.

In both cases, the legal costs will have far exceeded the value of the disputed strip ; which is why we would encourage anyone to explore alternative ways of resolving a neighbour dispute. Litigation rarely provides an appropriate environment in which to resolve emotionally charged disputes. Whilst it is sometimes necessary for one of the parties to issue proceedings in order to focus minds, it is usually possible to settle the matter well before the trial date. It is incumbent on the lawyers to urge their clients to consider mediation as a more effective means of resolving neighbour disputes. With mediation, there is a much better chance that the two neighbours will be able to co-exist as neighbours after the dispute has been settled. With litigation, it is usually only the lawyers who benefit.