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Registering land omitted by mistake: applications under s.19

Common landPosted by Hugh Craddock Sun, August 02, 2015 18:52:39

A recent application (see the notice for Church Hill Common, Ringland) in Norfolk under Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 has highlighted the new opportunity to get land registered as common land, or as a town or village green, even in the majority areas of England which are not pioneering the full implementation of Part 1.

Part 1 of the 2006 Act provides for new arrangements for keeping and maintaining the registers of common land and town and village greens in England and Wales, but in England, Part 1 has been fully brought into force only in nine pioneer commons registration (i.e. local) authority areas (see the list in Sch.1 to the Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014), and in Wales, not at all. Elsewhere, Part 1 has been commenced for particular purposes only: primarily, to register new town or village greens under s.15, and, with effect from 15 December 2014, to deregister certain wrongly registered land — a fuller explanation can be found in my November 2014 blog.

At the time, in my blogs of November 2014 and December 2014, I mistakenly assumed that the commencement order for these provisions (the Commons Act 2006 (Commencement No. 7, Transitional and Savings Provisions) (England) Order 2014) brought s.19 into force (apart from the pioneer areas) solely for the purposes of correcting mistakes in the register made by a commons registration authority so as to deregister wrongly registered common land. Such a mistake might have been made where at the time (between 1967 and 1969) of provisional registration of land as common land, the map of the common supplied by the applicant for registration was incorrectly transposed by the authority into the register to include land not in fact shown on the application map (this occasionally happened where the application map excluded island cottages within the common, but the authority failed to pick these up). There is no doubt that such land may now be the subject of an application for amendment of the register under s.19 — and not before time, since at least 45 years will have elapsed since the mistake was made.

The commencement order does indeed bring s.19 into force for the limited purpose of para.(a) of subs.(2): "correcting a mistake made by the commons registration authority in making or amending an entry in the register" (see art.3(2)(b) of the commencement order), and then only on an application made by any person (so that the authority cannot make a proposal to amend the register on its own initiative — see the exclusion from commencement of s.19(4)(a) in art.3(2)(b)). But there is no restriction on the scope of an application for the purpose of s.19(2)(a): so an application could be made equally if the authority's error in transposing the original application map was to omit land shown on that map. Or if the authority, in registering a provisional right to graze 100 cattle, actually registered a right for 10 cattle.

The result is a little surprising, because the only other substantive provisions in Part 1 which have been brought into force (again, outside the pioneer areas) are paras.6 to 9 of Sch.2 which enable the deregistration of land (see art.3(2)(d) and (3)(b) of the commencement order). Indeed, art.3(3)(a) of the commencement order, which states that s.19 is brought into force "for the purpose given in section 19(2)(a) (correcting a mistake made by the registration authority in making or amending an entry in the register)", appears to be largely redundant, because that constraint has already been achieved by art.3(2)(b). And note that applications for the purpose of s.19(2)(a) are free: see the entry for s.19 in Sch.5 to the the 2014 Regulations.

Thus it is that the application for Church Hill Common, Ringland is to add land to the register which was excluded from the original provisional registration which has long since become final. If, indeed, the omitted land was contained within the original application map, and if the commons registration authority (Norfolk County Council) is satisfied that the exception in s.19(5) does not apply, then the outcome will be the addition of new common land to the Norfolk registers, even though Norfolk is not one of the pioneer authorities. Similar applications seem likely elsewhere.

And the s.19(5) exception? This easily overlooked gloss on s.19 says that: "A mistake in a register may not be corrected under [section 19] if the authority considers that, by reason of reliance reasonably placed on the register by any person or for any other reason, it would in all the circumstances be unfair to do so." This exception might apply if, for example, someone had bought land having confirmed that it was not registered common land nor town or village green, had no reason to suppose that a mistake had been made in giving effect to the original provisional registration, and now would suffer significant detriment if the omitted land were registered. There may be some precedent for the measure of 'unfair'ness in s.19(5), to be found in s.14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965, which enables rectification of a registration made under that Act if the court considers it 'just'. Those who wish to explore the test of justness, and by analogy, the exception of unfairness, would do well to look at the judgment of the Supreme Court in Taylor v Betterment Properties (Weymouth) Ltd and Adamson and others v Paddico (267) Ltd, which explored this issue in detail, in relation to applications from two landowners to deregister two different town greens under s.14(b) of the 1965 Act.

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