A clean slate - Francis Chitolie v Saint Lucia National Housing Corporation [2023] UKPC 43

St Lucia

Judgment has been handed down this morning by the Privy Council in Francis Chitolie v Saint Lucia National Housing Corporation [2023] UKPC 43, in an appeal from the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (St Lucia) before Lord Briggs Lord Sales, Lord Burrows, Lord Stephens and Lord Richards.

The appeal raised issues of statutory interpretation regarding rights to land acquired prior to registration under the St Lucia Torrens system of land registration and associated claims to an overriding interest.

In a majority judgment given by three of the Lord Justices, the Board held that failure to make any claim at the time of registration was fatal, that the effect of the land registration system in St Lucia was to reset the clock for the purposes of acquiring rights by adverse possession and that overriding interests based on adverse possession were only an exception to indefeasibility prospectively once the system was up and running. Even a person with an absolute documentary title, who has not been served with a specific notice, was liable to lose that title by failing to make a claim.

Emphasis was placed on the goal of achieving certainty of title (by indefeasibility) so far as possible and the elimination of certain property rights in the absence of a claim was held to be justifiable in order to produce as definitive and comprehensive a register of title as was reasonably possible.

Whilst all Torrens land registration systems share the same central policy objective, they differ in their precise details and it is potentially misleading to read across decisions from one jurisdiction to another. All depends on the particular legislative provisions in play and the specific policy choices made. Under the St Lucian system, there was a radical break with what had gone before and registration wiped the possessory slate clean.

Judgment may be accessed here.

Myriam Stacey KC and Richard Moules acted for the Appellants, instructed by Theo Solley of Sheridans.

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