10 November, 2009
The Legal Aid Clinic is celebrating its third birthday this month. Part of the celebrations is a series of four forums being held in the Valley on problems that commonly arise in the clinic. Last Tuesday, attorney at law Dame Dr Bernice V Lake QC, and Legal Aid Clinic legal adviser Don Mitchell CBE QC, made presentations on land issues in
Anguilla to a small but appreciative audience.
Dame Bernice explained that the principal problems in the registered land system in
Anguilla arise when there is a devolution of title. There are difficulties when assertions are made as to ownership of rights in people’s lands. These mainly spring from claims to rights of way. The principles that govern such claims are rooted in the common law, or customary law, and exist outside of the registered land system. Too many people believe that because they have been permitted to pass over somebody else’s land for a period, that vests in them a right to claim ownership of a right of way.
She also commented on the practice in the Planning Department of requiring persons who apply for planning permission to subdivide their land to put in a public road to be owned by government as a condition of the subdivision. They do this without informing the owner what they are doing, and without any offer of compensation. Planning has a right to insist on access, but a private right of access is not the same thing as a public road. The problem that has arisen is that when government finds a track over your land, they now claim an established public road that they can expand into a 32 foot highway without payment of compensation. It took a case brought by Rev John Gumbs that went all the way to the Privy Council to correct that error.
She also remarked on the mistaken belief held in some quarters that all Anguillians have a right of access over private land to any beach. She explained that the public has the right to use the public beach, but if there is no registered right of way over private land to get to the beach, then access must be by boat. The public beach is that strip of sand between the sea bed and the high water mark, it does not extend any further back into private land.