Pushing the boundaries

Posted: 12th April 2012

As Lord Justice Mummery recently commented, the cost of bringing an action over a boundary dispute is almost always more than the value of the land in dispute and the situation is even worse when the argument becomes ill-tempered.
Recently a very acrimonious dispute was settled in court after a couple’s behaviour made reaching an of court settlement well nigh impossible.
The dispute was over the boundary between two properties and started when one of the owners grubbed out a hedge to put up a shed. The neighbours argued that the hedge was on their land.
Two court hearings were necessary to resolve the issue and led to the determination that the hedge was not on the neighbours’ land. Normally, that would be that and the winning party would be entitled to recover most of their legal costs from the loser.
Rough Ground
In this case, however, the victorious couple had presented a plan of the property as evidence of their position. They had altered the description in the plan to make it look as though their property extended five feet further then the original document stated. They had continued to deny that they had altered the plan until cross-examination in court, when the truth finally emerged.
Although the couple still won on the strength of other evidence, the court took a dim view of their behaviour and declined to rule that their costs should be paid by the losing neighbours, leaving the couple facing ‘ruinous’ legal bills. The couple are to appeal against the costs order. It is claimed that if they are unsuccessful, they will have to sell their home in order to pay their legal bills.
As this case shows, the rule that the loser pays the costs of the winner is not inviolable. The courts will be hard on any litigant who presents fabricated evidence.