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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ward LJ on boundary disputes....

I hate boundary disputes - and so does the Court of Appeal.  Ward LJ is becoming the next Denning MR:

A little extract from a recent judgment, with some highlighting from me....










    Lord Justice Jackson
    I agree that this appeal should be dismissed for the reasons stated by Lloyd LJ. I wish to add a comment about the manner in which the litigation has been conducted.


    This case concerns a dispute between neighbours, which should have been capable of sensible resolution without recourse to the courts. During the course of his submissions in the Court of Appeal Mr Pearce for the claimants observed that this may not be an "all or nothing" case. A moderate degree of carpeting in flat 8 might (a) reduce the noise penetrating into flat 6 and (b) still enable the occupants of flat 8 to enjoy their new wooden floor. This is precisely the sort of outcome which a skilled mediator could achieve, but which the court will not impose.


    Of course there are many cases where a strict determination of rights and liabilities is what the parties require. The courts stand ready to deliver such a service to litigants and must do so as expeditiously and economically as practicable. But before embarking upon full blooded adversarial litigation parties should first explore the possibility of settlement. In neighbour disputes of the kind now before the court (and of which I have seen many similar examples) if negotiation fails, mediation is the obvious and constructive way forward.


    In the present case a mediator would not have been concerned about the interaction between the various leases and the licence to carry out works. Nor would he have been concerned about the other interesting points of construction, which first the county court judge and now this court have been called upon to decide. Instead he would have been helping the parties to find a sensible resolution of the practical problem which had arisen. I have little doubt that such a mediation would have been successful. The points of law upon which the litigation has turned are not easy ones and at the time of the hypothetical mediation neither party could have been confident of victory.


    As it is, neither side wrote to the other proposing mediation until shortly before the hearing in the Court of Appeal. By then huge costs had been incurred. The claimants' costs up to the end of trial were £23,195. The claimants incurred a further £34,609 costs on the appeal. The defendant's costs up to the end of trial were £32,798. The defendant incurred a further £49,532 costs on the appeal. Thus the total costs thrown away amount to £140,134. If the parties were driven by concern for the well being of lawyers, they could have given half that sum to the Solicitors Benevolent Association and then resolved their dispute for a modest fraction of the monies left over.





    Lord Justice Ward
    I also agree that this appeal should be dismissed for the reasons given by Lloyd LJ.


    I wish enthusiastically to associate myself with the observations of my Lords on the desirability of mediation in neighbourhood disputes. To repeat what I recently said in Oliver v Symons, a boundary dispute:


    "I wish particularly to associate myself with Elias L.J.'s pointing out that this is a case crying out for mediation. All disputes between neighbours arouse deep passions and entrenched positions are taken as the parties stand upon their rights seemingly blissfully unaware or unconcerned that they are committing themselves to unremitting litigation which will leave them bruised by the experience and very much the poorer, win or lose. It depresses me that solicitors cannot at the very first interview persuade their clients to put their faith in the hands of an experienced mediator, a dispassionate third party, to guide them to a fair and sensible compromise of an unseemly battle which will otherwise blight their lives for months and months to come."
    Not all neighbours are from hell. They may simply occupy the land of bigotry. There may be no escape from hell but the boundaries of bigotry can with tact be changed by the cutting edge of reasonableness skilfully applied by a trained mediator. Give and take is often better than all or nothing.

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