Law Commission should review manorial rights

22 January 2015

The Law Commission should carry out a review to assess whether the law relating to manorial rights should be changed, says the Justice Committee in its Manorial rights report, published Thursday 22 January.

Manorial rights are certain rights which 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, sporting rights such as hunting, shooting and fishing, and rights to hold fairs and markets.

Bought and sold

The lordship of manors can be bought and sold, and some are held by charitable and educational institutions.

In the past such rights, which were rarely exercised, were not required to be detailed on the register of title, but they remained overriding – i.e. they bound the landowner, who may not have known about them.

Increase transparency

Changes made through the Land Registration Act 2002 sought to increase the transparency and knowledge of such rights by removing their overriding status and requiring registration by October 2013.

Around 90,000 claims were registered in the year preceding the deadline, which led to many people discovering for the first time that their properties were subject to rights owned by a third party.

Chair's comments

Committee Chairman Sir Alan Beith MP said:

"House owners were astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties, and worried that this would affect them when selling the house or getting a mortgage. 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."

Considerable problems

The Committee heard evidence about 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.

However, there was little evidence of problems actually being caused by the exercise of manorial rights in practice in the present day.

The Committee also received evidence opposing abolition, and indicating that some manorial rights may have real economic value.

New legislation

Sir Alan Beith said:

"It is understandable that many rights holders have responded to new legislation by seeking to protect these rights – often they will have been advised that they should do so. We nevertheless consider that the situation where a claim can be made over areas of dense residential properties - where rights are unlikely or impossible to be exercised – is anomalous."

Evidence also highlighted some issues arising from abolition, especially the human rights implications and compensation issues.

Obvious improvements

In the light of evidence received, the Committee considers that there are some obvious improvements that could be made to the existing registration process:

  • The use of unilateral notices as the primary means by which such rights are registered should be removed, thus shifting the burden of proof towards those claiming manorial right
  • 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.

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

Further information

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