A recent High Court case shows the dangers of negotiating in a dispute without legal representation. It also illustrates that an agreement which disposes of an interest in land does not have to be in writing if the purpose of the agreement was something other than disposal of the land.
In January 2011, Derek and Teresa Yeates applied to the Chief Land Registrar requesting that the register of title be altered to show them as the owners of a piece of land (referred to in the case as ‘the blue land’) as they had been in occupation of the land for the requisite period of time. They claimed that they were the owners by reason of adverse possession. The registered proprietors of the blue land at the time, Denise Line and Brett Field, opposed the Yeates’s application.
Over Easter 2011, the disputing parties met, without solicitors present. At that meeting, Mrs Yeates verbally acknowledged that it appeared from the plans as if the blue land belonged to Ms Line and Mr Field and the erection of a fence was agreed. Subsequently, the Adjudicator decided that Mr and Mrs Yeates had in fact acquired title to the land by adverse possession but the register would not be altered in their favour due to the compromise agreement entered into at the Easter meeting.
Mr and Mrs Yeates appealed, arguing that the agreement amounted to a disposal of their interest in the blue land and, as such, to be valid had to be in writing because Section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 provides that ‘a contract for the sale or other disposition of an interest in land can only be made in writing’.
The High Court held that the purpose behind the compromise agreement was not to dispose of an interest in land, but to resolve the dispute concerning it. It was not, therefore, a contract for the sale or other disposition of an interest in land and did not have to be in writing to be valid. This was so even though the effect of the agreement was to dispose of the Yeates’s interest in the blue land, acquired by adverse possession, to Ms Line and Mr Field.