Many homes or businesses are only accessible via neighbours' land and that can prove fertile ground for dispute. However, as a High Court case showed, expert lawyers are adept at ensuring their clients' unhindered use of rights of way.
A couple's home and holiday accommodation business was accessed via a track that ran across land that formed part of the grounds of a country house hotel. They took action against the hotel's owners, asserting that they had for a number of years engaged in a persistent and systematic course of conduct that substantially interfered with the exercise of their right of way over the track. The owners denied the allegation and characterised the couple's complaints as an attempt to gain greater access rights than those to which they were legally entitled.
Ruling on the matter, the Court found that a succession of works carried out by or on behalf of the hotel's owners over the years – including the installation of a gate, the placing of boulders on the track's verges and changes to its entrance splay – amounted to unlawful interference with the couple's right of way.
Aerial photographs and other evidence indicated that the works had resulted in the track being significantly narrowed in places, making it harder for cars to pass each other and for heavier vehicles to access the couple's property. The Court was satisfied that the installation of the gate had nothing to do with security but was rather a deliberate attempt to inconvenience the couple.
The Court granted the couple an injunction that required the hotel's owners to, amongst other things, remove the gate and boulders and to broaden the entrance splay. The couple were awarded £1,000 in damages to reflect the inconvenience they had suffered and, importantly for them, the Court recognised their right to repair and maintain the track, which had at times fallen into a very poor condition.