Bree v Scott: 1904

(Supreme Court of Victoria) The defendant squatted from 1878 upon land allotted to her mother as Crown licensee. A Crown licensee was entitled to acquire the fee upon performance of obligations in the licence. In 1885 a Crown grant was duly issued to the mother in consideration of a payment then made. A mortgagee sought to eject the defendant. The question which arose was whether the 15-year limitation period had run its course by 1899. If the period ran from 1878 the claim was barred. If the period ran only from 1885, being the date of the grant of the legal estate through which the mortgagee claimed title, the claim was not barred.
Held: Time ran from the earlier date. The licence under the Land Act 1869 was the seed of which the subsequent grant was the fruition of title. ‘Stated generally, the policy of the [limitation legislation] was to require a person having a right to land to exercise it as against a person illegally occupying at the peril of losing the land if the illegal occupation continued undisturbed for fifteen years. Here we have an occupation such as the Statute contemplated continuing undisturbed, and when it commenced, and up to the time of the issue of the grant, a person having legal title from the Crown who could have recovered the land against the occupant … This inactive licensee and lessee afterwards acquired a legal estate in the fee, not by virtue of any new right unconnected with her prior interest, but by the maturing of a right which had its inception in the licence. No doubt, up to the issue of the grant, there was no certainty that the fee would be acquired: the right to the land was inchoate, and might have been lost, but it was in fact perfected, and we have to say whether the nature of this new title is such as to wipe out all the consequences of past inaction, and to give a new term of fifteen years within which inaction must continue before the illegal occupant could acquire title … I should say that since the Judicature Act, if not before, the mere difference between legal and equitable estates would be insufficient. Take the case of omission to proceed against an illegal occupant by a purchaser under a contract of sale … there is no reason for saying that a conveyance by the vendor … would give this new start in the owner’s favour … The changes in the legal interest of the person who might have brought the action against the defendant in the present case made no changes in her rights as against the defendant; the right to turn her out was as good in the licensee as in the grantee.’


Beckett J, Madden C.J


(1904) 29 VLR 692


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedChung Ping Kwan and others v Lam Island Development Company Limited PC 8-Jul-1996
(Hong Kong) Various provisions had been made for the termination of long leases in Hong Kong. Land had come to be occupied by adverse possession. At first instance the judge had given judgment against the squatters, but then retracted after a later . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Commonwealth, Landlord and Tenant, Limitation

Updated: 03 July 2022; Ref: scu.194082