Landowners claiming manorial rights should no longer be able to do so through unilateral notices, a committee of MPs says today.

The Commons Justice Committee also urges the Law Commission to investigate whether the law needs change. 

Manorial rights are rights that were retained by lords of the manor in England and Wales when land became freehold in the early 20th century, and can include rights to mines and some minerals, as well as rights such as hunting, shooting and fishing, and rights to hold fairs and markets. 

The committee set up an investigation after the 90,000 claims to manorial rights were registered following the Land Registration Act 2002, which removed the overriding status of such rights and required registration by October 2013.

Sir Alan Beith, the committee's chair, said that many house owners had been astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties.

'The lack of understanding of such rights, and the way the registration process was carried out and communicated, has led to understandable concerns and anxieties. We have had numerous representations, both from MPs on their constituents’ behalf, and from individual members of the public affected by registrations on their properties, most notably in Anglesey and in Welwyn Garden City.

'They all called for either the abolition of these rights or a review of the law.'

In its report published today, the committee says that it heard evidence of considerable problems with the registration process, and in particular the Land Registry’s notifications to owners, the burden of proof of the validity of claims, which falls disproportionately on the landowner, and the use of unilateral notices to register manorial rights.

It says 'obvious improvements' could be made to the registration process:

  • The use of unilateral notices as the primary means by which manorial rights are registered should be removed, thus shifting the burden of proof towards those claiming the rights;
  • Further research should be carried out, and data collected, into the prevalence, exercise, impact and value of manorial rights in England and Wales, 'given the paucity of information which came to light during the committee’s inquiry'.

The committee also recommends that the Law Commission carry out a review assessing whether the law relating to manorial rights should be changed, including the question of whether all or some categories be abolished, and how legislation could appropriately address human rights and compensation issues in such an event.

One campaign group, the Peasants’ Revolt in Welwyn Garden City, said it was delighted by the committee’s recommendation.

It commented: 'This year marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, so it represents the perfect opportunity to get rid of an absurd system, originating in feudal times, that gives lords of the manor rights over other people’s properties. It’s great to see that our efforts have borne fruit so quickly – it’s a real case of democracy in action.'