Local neighbour dispute highlights importance of meeting legal time limits

The national and local press recently reported on the decision of the Court of Appeal to order a homeowner based in Malvern to pay a “£50,000 legal bill”.

The costs decision is borne out of a trespass action bought by Ms Green’s neighbours. In 2012, a judge sitting at Worcester County Court ordered that Ms Green had erected a fence approximately 15 inches beyond the boundary of her land, thus encroaching onto her neighbours’ land by the same distance. The erection of the fence in this position had essentially allowed Ms Green to build a driveway to a holiday home she had built in her garden. The neighbours challenged the position of the fence and the Court found in their favour, declaring that the encroachment amounted to a trespass. Although the Court did not order that the fence be removed, Ms Green was ordered to pay £2,866.00 in damages to the neighbours for the value of the lost land.

Ms Green was ordered to pay the neighbours’ legal costs –  it seems she had, after all, committed a trespass and so her neighbours were right in pursuing their claim against her. In civil litigation, the general rule is that the “loser” pays the “winner’s” legal costs.

Ms Green sought to challenge the level of costs that she was ordered to pay. The Court of Appeal has however disallowed her challenge on the basis that she was too late in bringing the same before the Court. Whilst Lord Justice Jackson sympathised with the arguments presented, he ordered that Ms Green “did not comply with the rules and lodge complaints within the proper time” and that “the Courts have to observe the rules”. He said “at this late stage, there is nothing I can do about it. She has lost her chance to dispute her neighbours’ bill of costs”.

Our Stefania Fulford, a specialist in property litigation comments on the decision: “whether Ms Green would have successfully challenged the Bill of Costs had she made the challenge on time will not be known, but the comments made by Lord Justice Jackson suggests she might have been successful in reducing the bill, at least to an extent. This case not only highlights why it is important to act promptly and in accordance with the Court’s time limits but also why it is important to try to resolve any dispute with your neighbour as promptly as possible, therefore keeping legal costs to a minimum. Neighbour disputes, particularly boundary disputes, where expert evidence will be needed, can become very expensive to run through to trial and prompt settlement will save each party a lot of time, stress and money.”

If you are having any difficulties with your neighbours and would like legal advice, contact Stefania by email at sfulford@thursfields.co.uk or by telephoning her on 01905 677057.

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