Landed estates should beware of the manorial rights probe

A recent spate of applications to claim manorial rights on properties across England and Wales has prompted the House of Commons Justice Committee to hold an inquiry into the issue.

Lords of the manor were well aware of the existence of these rights and how valuable they could be. However, most land owners were blissfully ignorant that others could exercise these rights over their land. Lords of the manor across England and Wales (Scotland abolished these rights several years ago) need to be aware of what it could mean for their rights.

Protest groups such as the Peasants’ Revolt from Welwyn Garden City have voiced their disapproval of manorial rights and their irrelevance to modern society which, twinned with the increase in numbers of people looking to claim theirs, has caused the Government to take a closer look. It seems that many people are aghast that rights stemming from the feudal system can still be exercised. It will be interesting to see what recommendations the Justice Committee makes. If manorial rights are abolished without compensation this could give rise to claims for breach of human rights legislation.

Manorial rights over land owned by others can include such things as the right to minerals under the land or to hold a fayre. Historically, these rights had ‘overriding status’ meaning they continued to exist even where the land over which they could be exercised was sold and the buyer was unaware the rights existed. However, legislation that came into force in October 2013 changed this so manorial rights lost their overriding status if they were not protected by being registered at HM Land Registry. This led to an increased number of applications to the Land Registry to register rights, notice of which was served on land owners, many of whom were previously unaware that such rights existed.

It is unlikely that the lord of the manor is going to arrange a county fayre in an individual’s garden but the existence of these historic rights over their property has caused disquiet for some. Many landed estates are either held by trustees or are charitable organisations who have a fiduciary duty to protect their assets. It may well be that they will never exercise their rights but some estates have felt duty bound to apply for registration.

On 15th October there was a sel-ect committee hearing where those for and opposed to manorial rights, and two independent experts, were questioned. This month the committee will take evidence from the Ministry of Justice and the Land Registry before deciding whether to ask the Law Commission to undertake a full review of the law.

Kate Smith is a partner at professional services firm Knightslutions business in Norwich.

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