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Can a Licensee Sue a Trespasser

What happens where the freeholder of a commercial site is a remote company and day-to-day management of the land is undertaken by an agent? Can the managing agent bring the claim?

In Manchester Airport PLC vs Dutton1), the National Trust was the freeholder of an area of woodland, but granted Manchester Airport Plc ‘a licence to enter an occupy’ the land to reduce tree heights in the flight path of a second runway. Trespassers occupied the wood, and Manchester Airport Plc brought a claim. The Court of Appeal held by a majority that a licensee could, in certain circumstances, bring the claim.

A licensee not in occupation may claim possession against a trespasser, if that is a necessary remedy to vindicate and give effect to such rights of occupation as by contract with his licensor he enjoys. This is the same principle as allows a licensee who is in de facto possession to evict a trespasser. In every case, the question must be what the reach of the right is, and whether it is shown that the defendant’s acts violate its enjoyment.

The decision may provide assistance where it is more convenient for the managing agent of – say – an industrial estate to bring a claim. Where the estate is in the ownership of a number of different title-holders, this may be a practically easier course to take – provided that the agent can demonstrate a contractual entitlement from all of the relevant title-holders to effective control of the land occupied by the trespassers.

About the Author

author Sunil Sharma is an advocate; editor and compiler of legal commentaries, having authored more than 40 books.

2000 1 QB 133

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