A persistent attempt by villagers in Ireby, Lancashire, to overturn the registration of ownership of ‘manorial waste’ by a local resident and claimed lord of the manor, has failed in the Court of Appeal. Although the landowners Peter Burton and Susan Bamford had long since lost their claim to the lordship of the manor of Ireby, the court upheld the decisions of the Adjudicator to the Land Registry, and of the High Court, that the Burtons’ successful registration of title to the manorial waste should not be disturbed, even though it was founded solely in the original and subsequently cancelled claim to the lordship of the manor. The Burtons therefore retain ownership both of Ireby Fell and of unspecified manorial waste in the village.
The story attracted a detailed report in the Daily Mail. The court case is reported from the High Court and on appeal to the Court of Appeal, as well as a High Court hearing on costs arising from the adjudicator’s decision.
The Land Registry originally took the view that an application to rectify the register, by cancelling an existing registration of title, could be made only by someone with a better claim to the title, a position founded in common law, and upheld by the High Court in Wells v Pilling Parish Council where the contest was said to be a matter of private law between the parties (this notwithstanding that provision was now made in statute for application to rectify without any express mention of the old common law restrictions, that the council was presumably acting in furtherance of the interests of the local community, and that the council hadn’t been notified of Mr Wells’ original application to register a possessory title to the foreshore — a failing all too typical of Land Registry practice in this area). The High Court then effectively overturned that approach in Mann v Dingley, holding that the court in Wells had unnecessarily narrowed down the question to one of private or public law, and was followed in Paton v Todd. So the way lay open for a (diminishing) number of villagers to challenge the Burtons’ claim to Ireby Fell through three successive tribunals, notwithstanding that the villagers did not claim to have a better title (if one discounts a rather desperate assignment of purported title from the Grand Prior of England of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta), although they presented evidence as to who else might. Crucially, however, no other party joined in the action to lay claim to the title, and no-one objected to the Burtons’ original application to register the lordship of the manor, and hence title to the manorial waste. By the time of the hearings, the Burtons had established a track record of managing the common, and the courts concluded that, notwithstanding their lack of historic title to the land (following the revocation of the manorial title), it was better that the land should remain vested in the Burtons, than that it should once again become apparently ownerless (seeing as no-one else was motivated to lay claim to it).