If you have a legitimate legal complaint, any delay in consulting a solicitor is highly likely to benefit the wrongdoer. A man whose home was taken from him by fraud, but who delayed over 20 years before taking legal action, found that out to his cost.
The man had been dispossessed of his home in 1989 by a fraudster who made use of forged documents in successfully having the property registered in his name. The fraudster subsequently transferred the house to his son, who was aware of the fraud. The victim realised what had happened at an early stage but did not dare to confront the fraudster. It was not until 2013 that he applied to rectify the land register.
Both the First-tier and Upper Tribunals upheld the victim’s claim and ruled that the property should be transferred back into his name. They rejected the son’s plea that so-called squatters’ rights operated in his favour and that, having been in possession of the property for more than 12 years, as of right and without the victim’s consent, he was entitled to be recognised as its lawful owner.
In upholding the son’s challenge to that outcome, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that, as a result of the fraudulent transfer, he and his father before him only acquired legal title to the property and that they held it on trust for the victim. However, the victim’s beneficial interest in the property was extinguished on the 12th anniversary of his dispossession. In the circumstances, the son had a good defence to a possession claim and was entitled to be registered as the property’s owner.
The victim pointed out that the Limitation Act 1980 can operate to extend legal time limits in cases of undiscovered fraud. However, the Court found that that did not avail him as he had been aware that he had a grievance against the fraudster by 1990. Although the result of the case might appear unattractive, the Court noted that bad people, as well as good, are entitled to the benefit of limitation periods. The victim had sadly died before the hearing of the case, but the executor of his estate had continued his resistance to the son’s appeal.