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Webb v Paternosters Case (1619) 78 E.R. 165

LAND LAW – LICENSES – ENFORCEABILITY

Facts

The defendant’s predecessor-in-title granted the claimant a license to leave haystacks on his land.

Issue

Personal rights are generally not enforceable against third-parties, in contrast to proprietary rights, which can be enforced against successors-in-title provided certain requirements are met. The nature of these requirements will depend on the form of the proprietary interest.

A license is a form of personal, non-proprietary interest. The issue in this case was whether the claimant’s license to leave the hay on the land could be enforced against the defendant, who, as successor-in-title, was not a party to the original agreement.

Held

The licence, combined with the actual occupation of the land (the claimant’s possession of the land being represented by his leaving the stack of hay on it) was binding on both the land-owner and their successors-in-title.

To reconcile it with the principle that licenses are non-proprietary, this case has later been interpreted as supporting the principle that if a license ‘shadows’ a proprietary interest such as an easement or an equitable freehold, it can be enforced in the same manner as the relevant proprietary interest. This means that if the proprietary interest can be enforced against the defendant, so can the license.

As such, the court in this case appeared to decide that the claimant had acquired an equitable property right in the land by being granted a right to occupy and possess the land (Wallis v Harrison). This property right was bound to the land and so enforceable against successors-in-title. The license mirrored this property right and so could be enforced against the defendant.

In the absence of a property right to which the license attaches, however, a license remains entirely unenforceable (National Provincial Bank Ltd v Ainsworth).


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