Neighbours’ disputes can get badly out of hand – but lawyers are trained to defuse ill-feeling and foster compromise. In one case, a couple who engaged in a fruitless six-year boundary dispute, largely without legal representation, ended up having to pay their opponents’ substantial legal bills.
Tree in fieldThe couple’s home bordered an 800-acre agricultural estate. The owners of the latter took them to court, claiming that they had encroached over the boundary and absorbed three parcels of land into their garden. The couple began by representing themselves and instructed lawyers only when the case was well underway.
Following three lengthy hearings – two in the county court, interspersed by another in the Court of Appeal – the couple were comprehensively defeated. After hearing expert evidence and analysing documents and ordnance survey maps dating back to the 1920s, a judge found that the boundary lay along the line of a hedge. That meant that the disputed parcels of land all fell within the estate.
The facts of the case emerged as the Court of Appeal refused the couple permission to challenge that ruling. The judge had dealt with the case with conspicuous care and his assessment of the evidence could not be faulted. Given the length and complexity of the case, the legal costs incurred by the owners of the estate – payable by the couple – were likely to run into six figures.