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Courts warn litigants to gather the evidence, or face the consequences

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Neighbour disputes that are contested in court are often viewed negatively by a judge and recent cases have seen the courts order disproportionately high penalties to the parties for their failure to gather the evidence.

In one case this year, the claimant alleged that the defendant trespassed onto his land. The defendant replaced an old fence with a low a brick wall but the claimant argued it was in the wrong position and was actually over the boundary.

Whilst the court accepted that the legal boundary was the centre of the brick wall, it concluded that the claimant had over-exaggerated his evidence in his witness statement. The court found that the trespass was only small. For this reason, an injunction to have the wall removed was refused and only modest damages were granted. The court also held that each party should bear their own costs.

Another case decided this year involved a small area of land that ran along the boundary between the two parties’ properties. In this case, the claimant served an additional witness statement one day before trial and the judge allowed this. The defendant appealed and sought to rely on fresh evidence. Both parties obtained further evidence for the appeal, which the court allowed, but then remitted the case back to the county court to test the evidence. Both parties spent significant legal costs in seeking further evidence. The claimant spent £49,000 but was awarded just £26,000.

Another case involved the claimants bringing a claim against their neighbour when he erected a gate across a right of way to stop them using a track across his land. The defendant also argued that the claimants had trespassed onto his land. The court declined to make any award. On the facts, the court found that the right of way claimed by the claimants had not been granted to them, and that there was no trespass. This effectively left both sides in the same positions that they were in before the hearing.

These cases illustrate the risk in bringing a claim to court and show that all evidence must be in place before starting a court case. Care should be taken to ensure that all title deeds, photographs, and feature on the ground are identified first.

While gathering the evidence may be costly and time consuming, these cases show that going to court without the evidence can have drastic consequences.

By Danielle Watts, graduate paralegal in the dispute resolution team

Stephensons has a team of specialist land dispute lawyers who are well equipped to advise on the relevant evidence required to succeed in resolving these kinds of disputes. Contact us on 01616 966 229 for assistance.