JA Pye (Oxford) v Graham

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Citation: JA Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham (2003) AC 419 (House of Lords)

This information can be found in the Textbook: Edgeworth et all, Sackville and Neave's Property Law Cases and Materials, 8th edition, Lexis Nexis, 2008, pp. 169-177 [2.91].


Background facts

  • The Plaintiff [JA Pye, the owner] had the paper title to agricultural land. Vehicular access was controlled by the Defendant [Graham, the neighbouring farmer].
  • Until 31 August 1984, the Defendant had used the land with the Plaintiff's permission for its grass (a license). After the expiry of the license, he was willing to pay for grazing rights if required.
  • In the absence of such request, however, the Defendant continued to farm the land for 14 years without the Plaintiff's permission (in fact, the Plaintiff told him to vacate the land and he did not). The Defendant treated the farm as his own.
  • The Plaintiff did nothing on the land the whole 14 years. He only brought a claim on 30 April 1998.

Legal issues

  • Limitation of actions - What constitutes dispossession
    • When was the owner dispossessed?
    • Whether the owner’s action was barred by s 15 of the Limitation Act 1980 (UK) (‘The Act’), which provided that no action could be brought after the limitation period of 12 years had accrued.


When was the owner dispossessed?

  • Dispossession occurs when one takes possession from another, without consent.
  • There can only be one possessor at a time.
  • Therefore, moment when the Defendant began possession is the moment of dispossession.
  • How is possession proven? Possession is made out of two parts which must be proven: factual possession and intention to possess.
    • To establish factual possession, one must prove:
      1. Physical control of the land, or occupation of it ('custody');
      2. Absence of the owner’s consent;
      3. Exclusive possession; and
      4. Dealing with the land as an owner would, whilst no other person had done so;
    • To establish intention, one must prove:
      1. Not an intention to own or acquire ownership, but merely to possess on one’s own behalf and for one’s own benefit;
      2. An intention to exclude the world at large (including the owner, so far as was reasonably possible).
      • The act of the squatter do not have to be inconsistent with the intentions of the owner.
      • It is not a problem if the squatter is willing to pay the owner while being in possession (ie, admitting the owner's title).
  • Applying the above tests on the facts:
    1. The farmer did have factual possession of the land.
      1. He was in control of the land before 30 April 1986.
      2. He was doing so without the consent of the owner.
      3. Nobody else had done so.
      4. He was dealing with the land as an owner might deal with it.
    2. The farmer manifestly intended to assert his possession over the owner.
      1. His intent was to possess, not own.
      2. He intended to exclude the farmer as was reasonably possible.
  • Therefore, the Defendant dispossessed the Plaintiff in 1984, at which point he began adverse possession.

Whether the owner’s action was barred

  • Since adverse possession was ongoing for 14 years, the Plaintiff is indeed barred from bringing a claim.
  • The Plaintiff fails, the Defendant acquired title to the land.


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