The law of the land comprises a crystallized expression of values cast in sharp relief against the landscape of the law. (Gray and Gray, Elements of Land Law) What key values or aims does English Land Law promote and evaluate the balance struck by them. Provide illustrations of relevant cases and statute in this regard.
The English Land Law is one of the oldest branches found in the doctrine of common law. It has its origins in the feudal reforms imposed on England by William the Conqueror during the Norman Conquest after 1066.1 The Conquest brought with it a sharp distinction which still exists, technically between land and chattels. Chattels are things that can be owned; land cannot be owned, except by the monarch. If a private citizen cannot 'own' land, what is it that we really do own when we think of ourselves as 'land-owners'? Technically, we own what lawyers call an estate in land.2 Although 'estate' is a general term with an everyday meaning, in this context it has a specialist interpretation. An estate in land is some package of rights over land, and responsibilities accompanying those rights. These rights, by definition, fall short of absolute ownership, that is, they held their grants of land directly from the king.3 These rights included the right to enjoy an income from the agricultural production of the land, and were accompanied by certain obligations to the king. The estate defined the duration of the rights enjoyed by its owner, and the accompanying responsibilities. Consequently, the tenant-in-chief would create lesser tenancies out of his larger estate, and grant them to people who were prepared to accept obligations towards him. These sub-tenants could then create their own sub-sub-tenancies, and so on. This process of 'sub-infeudation' is characteristic of the feudal system of land ownership common at that time; each tenant of land took a proportion of the income of the land from his sub-tenants, and rendered his own proportion to his overlord.4 Thus any given patch of earth would be subject to a whole chain of nested tenancies, from the king at the top to the horny-handed sons of toil at the bottom. Sub-infeudation was abolished in the 13th century, so that no further tenurial relationships could be created, except by the king. As a result, land-owners issued land rights to their sub-tenants by granting certain estates packages of ownership rights rather than creating new tenancies with their accompanying feudal obligations. The estate defined the duration of the rights enjoyed by its owner, and the accompanying responsibilities. Each of the tenants and sub-tenants of a particular piece of land might be holding his estate on different terms. For example, person A might grant to person B an 'estate in fee simple' in return for the rendering of certain monies and services. 'Fee simple' meant that the estate owned by B could be inherited by his heirs, according to the standard rules of inheritance.5 Another mode of ownership was the 'estate for life'.6 Here the sub-tenant would have the right to enjoy the products of the land for the duration of his life, after which the land would revert to the grantor. As the feudal era came to a decisive end in the industrial revolution, and the capitalist era took hold, the process of settlement-resettlement became less useful. Land began to be seen not so much as a measure of one's feudal status, but as a thing to invest and make money and temporary rights over land came to be recognized. The statutory definition of ‘Land’ as defined in the Law of Property Act 1925 is found under Section 205 (1) (ix)7 whereby stating that “land includes land of any tenure, and mines and minerals, whether or not held apart from the surface, buildings (whether the division is horizontal, vertical or made in any other way) and other corporeal hereditaments also a manor, an advowson, a rent and other incorporeal hereditaments; and easements, right, privilege, or...
References: and Relevant Cases, March 16th, 2013.
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