A High Court judge has expressed hope that parties involved in neighbour disputes will stay out of court and leave space for more pressing issues.
Master McCloud concluded her judgment in McGill v Stewart & Anor – a dispute between neighbours about private vehicles using their shared single access lane – by suggesting these cases were more suited for lower-cost forms of online resolution out of court.
This should ‘either now or in the near future’ involve decisions and discussion – assisted by lawyers if necessary – alongside software designed to help with self-identifying key issues and pre-trial steps.
‘If that were to become the trend it would reduce the high stakes caused by legal expenses and perhaps aid relationships among neighbours,’ said McCloud.
‘In the modernising legal system one hopes that such fallings-out will be less painful when resolved away from formal court settings. The courts themselves have limited resources, and whilst I appreciate that neighbour disputes are significant to the parties, it must be borne in mind that such disputes compete for time with cases such as those one sees daily in this court concerning brain damage and other life-changing injuries, death and the very gravest of historic child abuse.’
The litigants were owners of two properties located off a private lane in Buckinghamshire. This was the only conventional means of access to both properties, and the master pondered that ‘perhaps in constructing our places of residence we should learn from beavers and always build with more than one way in or out’.
The dispute was about the defendants’ right of way and their alleged failure to observe the restriction limiting use to ‘private motor vehicles’. It was said the surface of the lane had been damaged after the defendants allowed use of the lane for other vehicles. The defendants denied longstanding misuse and allowing prohibited vehicles to use the lane.
The master said vehicles on the lane should be limited to those necessary for the normal use of the property as a dwelling. Any further uses would require permission on an agreed basis, and if the parties could not agree this then the master suggested ADR should take place to draft something in writing.
McCloud noted that, before retiring to consider judgment, she asked both parties to find a solution to avoid one being imposed. She even took longer producing a judgment to allow this, but no resolution was forthcoming.