EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Press release issued by the Registrar
PYE v. UNITED KINGDOM
The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing today 8 November 2006 at 9 a.m. in the case of Pye v. United Kingdom (application no. 44302/02).
The applicants are two United Kingdom companies, J.A. Pye (Oxford) Ltd and J.A. Pye (Oxford) Land Ltd.
Summary of the facts
J.A. Pye (Oxford) Land Ltd was the registered owner of a plot of 23 hectares of agricultural land in Berkshire (United Kingdom) valued at 21 million pounds sterling (approximately 31 million euros). J.A. Pye (Oxford) Ltd is the former owner of the land. The owners of property adjacent to the land, Mr. and Mrs. Graham (“the Grahams”), occupied the land under a grazing agreement until 31 December 1983. On 30 December 1983 the Grahams were instructed to vacate the land as the grazing agreement was about to expire. They did not do so.
In January 1984 the applicants refused a request for a further grazing agreement for 1984 because they anticipated seeking planning permission for the development of all or part of the land and considered that continued grazing might damage the prospects of obtaining such permission. From September 1984 onwards until 1999 the Grahams continued to use the land for farming without the applicants’ permission.
In 1997, Mr Graham registered cautions (official warnings) at the Land Registry against the applicant companies’ title on the ground that he had obtained title by adverse possession (occupation of property contrary to the rights of the real owner).
The applicant companies sought the cancellation of the cautions before the High Court and issued further proceedings seeking possession of the disputed land.
The Grahams contested the applicant companies’ claims under the Limitation Act 1980, which provides that a person cannot bring an action to recover any land after the expiration of 12 years of adverse possession by another. They also relied on the Land Registration Act 1925, which provided that, after the expiry of the 12-year period, the registered owner held the land in trust for the squatter.
On 4 February 2000 the High Court held that, since the Grahams enjoyed factual possession of the land from January 1984 and adverse possession took effect from September 1984, the applicant companies had lost their title to the land under the 1980 Act, and the Grahams were entitled to be registered as the new owners.
The applicant companies appealed successfully, but their appeal was overturned by the House of Lords, which, on 4 July 2002, restored the order of the High Court.
The Land Registration Act 2002 – which does not have retroactive effect – now enables a squatter to apply to be registered as owner after ten years’ adverse possession and requires that the registered owner be notified of the application. The registered proprietor is then required to regularise the situation (for example, by evicting the squatter) within two years, failing which the squatter is entitled to be registered as the owner.
The applicants allege that the United Kingdom law on adverse possession, by which they lost land with development potential to a neighbour, operated in violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on Human Rights in their case.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 17 December 2002 and declared admissible on 8 June 2004. In its Chamber judgment of 15 November 2005 (press release no. 616, 2005), the Court held, by four votes to three, that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. The Court considered that the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) was not ready for decision.
The case was referred to the Grande Chamber (under Article 431 of the Convention and Rule 73 of the Rules of Court) on 12 April 2006 at the Government’s request.
Composition of the Court
The case will be heard by the Grand Chamber composed as follows:
Costa (French), President,
Christos Rozakis (Greek),
Nicolas Bratza (British),
Boštjan M. Zupančič (Slovenian),
Peer Lorenzen (Danish),
Loukis Loucaides (Cypriot)
Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portuguese),
Volodymyr Butkevych (Ukrainian),
Margarita Tsatsa-Nikolovska (citizen of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
András Baka (Hungarian),
Antonella Mularoni (San Marinese),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian),
Alvina Gyulumyan (Armenian),
Renate Jaeger (German),
David Thór Björgvinsson (Icelandic),
Ján Šikuta (Slovakian),
Ineta Ziemele (Latvian), judges,
Anatoli Kovler (Russian),
Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italian),
Traja (Albanian), substitute judges,
and also Erik Fribergh, Registrar.
Representatives of the parties
Government: Kate McCleery, Agent,
Jonathan Crowe, Counsel,
Jeremy Hodges, Paul Hughes, Advisers;
Applicants: David Pannick, Counsel,
Paul Lowe, Solicitor,
Victoria Wright, Adviser.
Mr and Mrs Graham Pye will also attend the hearing.
After the hearing the Court will begin its deliberations, which are held in private. Judgment will be delivered at a later date.
Hellyer (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 42 15)
Stéphanie Klein (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 88 41 21 54)
Beverley Jacobs (telephone: 00 33 (0)3 90 21 54 21)
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
1 Under Article 43 of the European Convention on Human Rights, within three months from the date of a Chamber judgment, any party to the case may, in exceptional cases, request that the case be referred to the 17 member Grand Chamber of the Court. In that event, a panel of five judges considers whether the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or its protocols, or a serious issue of general importance, in which case the Grand Chamber will deliver a final judgment. If no such question or issue arises, the panel will reject the request, at which point the judgment becomes final. Otherwise Chamber judgments become final on the expiry of the three-month period or earlier if the parties declare that they do not intend to make a request to refer