Land registration - alteration of the register
Under the Land Registration Act 2002, the registrar may alter the register for the purposes of:
- correcting a mistake;
- bringing the register up to date;
- giving effect to any estate, right or interest excepted from the effect of registration (see below); or
- removing a superfluous entry.
In Wells v Pilling Parish Council, Mr Wells was registered with possessory title to part of the sands at Morecombe Bay. Subsequently, Pilling Parish Council wrote to the Land Registrar seeking rectification or closure of part of the title. The Council alleged that Mr Wells did not satisfy the factual requirements which were necessary to prove adverse possession entitling him to be registered as proprietor with possessory title. Mr Wells challenged the Council's right to make such an application.
Registration with possessory title confers a lesser quality of title on the proprietor than registration with absolute title. In addition to the matters to which a property with absolute title is subject, land registered with possessory title is also subject to any estate, right or interest which was existing at the time of registration and which is adverse to the proprietor's title. The Council did not assert that it had such an estate, right or interest.
The Land Registry adjudicator permitted the Council's application in principle, without deciding it on the merits. He did so on the basis that there is no express restriction in the Land Registration Act which limits the category of person who can apply for the alteration of the register, and that consequently it was not necessary for the Council to establish that it was asserting a right in land adverse to Mr Wells. Mr Wells appealed.
The High Court held that the issue was whether the application made by the Council to alter the register was a matter of private law or a matter of public law. If the application to alter the register was properly categorised as private law proceedings, then the common law requires the applicant to have sufficient standing to bring a claim. It was common ground between the parties that on the facts of the case the Council had no such standing.
The Council referred to section 73 of the Act, pursuant to which any person may object to an application to the registrar. It pointed out that, had it known of Mr Wells' application to become the first registered proprietor, it would have been able to lodge an objection under section 73, which contains no requirement as to standing. The Council therefore argued that to deny it the opportunity to apply for subsequent alteration of the register was anomalous. The court noted the discrepancy, but did not find that it altered the substance of the question, which was whether the matter was one of private or public law.
The court held that the registration of a person as proprietor of land is concerned with conferring upon him private law rights. This was illustrated by the fact that the effect of the closure of the title would be to remove Mr Wells' freehold estate, which was undoubtedly a question of private rights. The fact that those private law rights are recorded in a register which is open to the public did not alter the fundamental nature of those rights. The Council's application was accordingly dismissed.
Things to consider
It may seem rather surprising that the Land Registration Act 2002, in other respects so comprehensive, does not contain any provisions governing who may apply to alter the register. This case is helpful confirmation that a person must have sufficient standing, as a matter of private law, to make such an application.
Update - the decision in this case that an applicant to alter the register must have sufficient standing to make the application has now been effectively overruled (see for example Paton v Todd).
This analysis was written by Sarah Allen, associate in Wragge & Co's Real Estate group.
This analysis may contain information of general interest about current legal issues, but does not give legal advice.