Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, has proposed the new system as part of a recently-published private members' bill (10-page / 103KB PDF). His boundary disputes mechanism would allow property owners in England and Wales to appoint a surveyor to settle their disputes.
Property litigation expert Alicia Foo of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although private members' bills "rarely make it to the statute book", the proposals created the opportunity for "much-needed debate" which could "spark future legislative change" with sufficient Government backing.
"Suing and being sued by neighbours is costly, stressful and unpleasant," she said. "There are very few winners and it's sad to see such bitterly-fought contests clogging up our courts. Charlie Elphicke's Bill is an interesting idea, and a step in the right direction."
The Bill proposes a new dispute resolution procedure, modelled on that currently used to deal with party wall disputes. Under the system, the parties would be able to appoint a single surveyor to resolve their dispute. Alternatively each party could appoint its own surveyor, who would between them appoint a third surveyor to resolve the case. Appeals would be heard by the county court.
Foo said that those who disliked the proposals would likely "take issue" with some of the provisions in the Bill.
"Some may wish to exclude commercial properties from the proposals, or may be concerned that non-compliance with an award would, in some cases, constitute a criminal offence," she said. "Others may suggest that the Bill needs fine-tuning to address omissions; for example, to ensure that referrals and awards are noted in a public register for all to see."
Writing in the Estates Gazette in September, Foo and colleague Theresa Adamson pointed out that between November 2011 and March 2012 six residential boundary disputes were determined by the Court of Appeal. These cases cost "vast sums of money" to resolve, they wrote.
"You may be forgiven for thinking that these disputes must have concerned such large areas of land that the costs were proportionate to the value of the land in question," the article said. "However, the information available from the Court of Appeal judgments suggests not ... It reflects badly on our legal system that disputes over strips of land, ranging from 1.25m to 2.4m wide, cost vast sums of money to resolve. One of the cases involved a six-day trial at first instance."