Commons – Registration – Common land and rights of common – Town or village green
 UKSC 7
5 February 2014
Lord Neuberger P, Lady Hale DP, Lord Sumption, Lord Toulson and Lord Hodge SCJJ
Charles George QC, Philip Petchy and Ned Westaway (instructed by Public Law Solicitors, Birmingham) for the defendants.
George Laurence QC and Ross Crail (instructed by DLA Piper UK LLP) for Paddico.
George Laurence QC and William Webster (instructed by Pengillys Solicitors) for Betterment.
Martin Carter (instructed by Baxter Caulfield, Huddersfield) for the intervener.
Commons – Registration. Two cases were before the Supreme Court where an application to rectify the register under s 14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 had been made following the registration of an area of land as a town or village green. Both applications had been allowed at first instance. The Court of Appeal, Civil Division, had allowed one appeal and dismissed the other. Both cases were appealed. The Supreme Court, upholding the first instance decisions in both cases, gave guidance as to the proper approach in principle to the lapse of time in bringing an application for rectification under s 14 of the Act.
Section 14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 provides: ’The High Court may order a register maintained under this Act to be amended if—
(a) the registration under this Act of any land or rights of common has become final and the court is satisfied that any person was induced by fraud to withdraw an objection to the registration or to refrain from making such an objection; or
(b) the register has been amended in pursuance of section 13 of this Act and it appears to the court that no amendment or a different amendment ought to have been made and that the error cannot be corrected in pursuance of regulations made under this Act;and, in either case, the court deems it just to rectify the register.’
The instant case involved two similar cases; the ‘Paddico’ case and the ‘Betterment’ case. In the Paddico case, In December 1996, an application was made for the registration of an area of land in north west Huddersfield. Most of that land was owned by the intervener company. At the time there were two extant planning permissions and the land had been designated for housing. The intervener objected to the application. In April 1997, the local authority granted the application. The intervener commenced proceedings to rectify the register under s 14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965, but they were not pursued and were stayed. In 2005, the intervener sold its land to the claimant company, Paddico. In January 2010, Paddico commenced its own application to rectify the register under s 14 of the Act. In June 2011, that application was granted. The defendant, AD, appealed. That appeal was allowed by the Court of Appeal and Paddico appealed to the Supreme Court. In respect of the Betterment case, in 1997, H, on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Markham and Little Francis, applied for the registration of a large area of open land in Weymouth as a town or village green. The owners of the land, C, objected to the application. In June 2001, the local authority notified the parties that it had decided to register the land as a new town or village green. In December, a married couple, TH, bought a house at the south west corner of the newly registered green. In May 2005, the claimant company, Betterment, acquired title to the whole of C’s land, including the newly registered green. In December, Betterment commenced proceedings under s 14 of the Act for rectification of the register. In November 2010, a judge allowed the application to rectify. The defendant, GT, appealed that decision. The Court of Appeal, Civil Division, dismissed that appeal. GT appealed to the Supreme Court.
The principal issue was whether the Court of Appeal had erred in its approach to the relevance of the lapse of time to whether or not it was ‘just’ to rectify the register.
The court ruled:
(1) The Act laid down no limitation period for applications under s 14. The rectification power contained in s 14 of the Act had no bias either for or against rectification, the section merely required that it be ‘just’. Further, there was no reference to ‘good administration’. The best analogy was with the equitable doctrine of laches, which generally required: (i) knowledge of the facts; and (ii) acquiescence; or (iii) detriment or prejudice. Of those, detriment or prejudice would usually be the crux of the matter (see , ,  of the judgment).
In the Paddico case, the lapse of time between the registration and the application to rectify had been from April 1997 to January 2010. However, there had been an early application to rectify which had not been pursued because of legal advice. During much of that time, the law had been in a considerable state of flux. There was no evidence at all of any specific prejudice to the local inhabitants other than the loss of the right to use the land for recreation. Paddico would have suffered injustice as a result of being wrongly deprived of the right to seek the development of the land, as would the intervener. The public would have suffered prejudice in the land not being available for the use to which the democratic planning procedures had decided that it should eventually be put. In the circumstances, the judge had been entitled to reach the conclusion that he had reached and his decision should be restored (see  of the judgment).
The appeal would be allowed in the Paddico case (see  of the judgment).
Lindsay Petroleum Co v Hurd (1874) 22 WR 492 considered; Smith Kline & French Laboratories Ltd v Evans Medical Ltd  FSR 561 considered; Caswell v Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal for England and Wales  2 All ER 434 considered; R v Newbury District Council, ex p Chieveley Parish Council  All ER (D) 367 considered; R v Bassetlaw District Council, ex p Oxby  PLCR 283 considered; R v Restormel Borough Council, ex p Corbett  All ER (D) 21 (Mar) considered; A v Hoare and other appeals  2 All ER 1 considered; Fisher v Brooker  4 All ER 789 considered; Bahamas Hotel Maintenance and Allied Workers Union v Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union  All ER (D) 288 (Feb) considered.
(2) In respect of the Betterment case, the lapse of time between the registration and the application to rectify the register had been from June 2001 to December 2005. During all of that time the possibility of an application under s 14 had been known to the registration authority and could presumably have been discovered by others had they asked. There was no evidence of prejudice and no material from which the likelihood of prejudice could be inferred, other than the position of TH. They had contracted to buy their house in December 2001, only six months after the registration and long before there could have been any suggestion that delay in applying for rectification would have made it unjust to grant it (see  of the judgment).
The appeal in the Betterment case would be dismissed (see  of the judgment).
Decision of Court of Appeal, Civil Division  EWCA Civ 262 reversed.
Decision of Court of Appeal, Civil Division  EWCA Civ 250 affirmed.