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23rd May 2013

All change for the Lands Tribunals

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On 1 July 2013 the Transfer of Tribunal Functions Order 2013 will come into force. It will abolish three existing tribunals, namely the Agricultural Lands Tribunal (“the ALT”), the Rent Assessment Committee and the Adjudicator to HM Land Registry. The roles of the Tribunals

The ALT currently deals with a variety of disputes and other issues which arise between agricultural tenants and landlords under Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancies. They also consider applications relating to drainage disputes between owners of neighbouring land under the Land Drainage Act 1991.

The Rent Assessment Committee settles disagreements between landlords and tenants of residential property by fixing a fair rent to be paid under the tenancy agreement. Finally, the Adjudicator to HM Land Registry deals with disputed applications relating to registered and unregistered land in England and Wales.

The Changes

The aim behind the Ministry of Justice’s changes to the structure of the lands tribunals is to provide cohesion within the administrative system and to increase both efficiency and case management.

After 1 July 2013 there will no longer be separate independent bodies to deal with the claims heard by each of these tribunals. Instead, all existing cases and judges will transfer to a new Property Chamber in the existing First Tier Tribunal, which was established in 2008. The route of appeal from a decision of the Property Chamber in the First Tier Tribunal will be to the Upper Tribunal, a body with equivalent status to the High Court, and thereafter to the Court of Appeal.

A new set of rules has been proposed by the Ministry for cases dealt with in the Property Chamber in an effort to streamline the procedure currently followed in the individual tribunals. The consultation on the rules has now closed. Perhaps the most significant amendment to the rules is the lifting of the cap on the recovery of costs. This is a significant departure from the current rules which limit recovery of costs to a maximum of £500 where one party has acted unreasonably. The proposed new rules also allow for a party to appoint a representative to act on their behalf, whether legally qualified or not. Whilst this will undoubtedly widen access to the tribunal system there are concerns that this might lead to an increase in claims that lack merit and potential for unlimited costs orders if the non-specialist representative is unsuccessful. A final welcome change to note is the possibility for the parties to opt for a paper determination during proceedings to avoid the costs of an oral hearing.

In practice, the short term effects of these changes on existing claims is likely to be limited as the same Judges will be hearing the cases and the new rules are not intended to apply to cases which are already in the system. Only time will tell what impact the new legislation will have and how this will change the face of agricultural and land disputes.

If you have any concerns about the proposed changes or would like further information please contact Kate Harris on 01223 532762 or click here to email Kate.