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Adverse possession and Pye v Graham

This article explains meaning of the phrase "adverse possession" as set out in Pye v Graham, the leading case on the topic. Other important issues that arise in adverse possession cases are dealt with on the other pages in this section of the site - see the contents column on the left.


The phrase adverse possession is a convenient one. We are all familiar with it and the Land Registration Act 2002 continues to use it. Butterworths publish a book by that title. However, the word adverse has tended to confuse. It implies that the squatter should in some way be aggressive towards the paper owner of the property. However, in the leading case of J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham [2002] UKHL 30 the House of Lords made it abundantly clear that this is not so. As will be explained below the test is simply: Has the trespasser possessed the land for the requisite period using the ordinary meaning of that word? The main speech in the case was given by Lord Browne-Wilkinson. Except where otherwise stated the quotations in this article are from his opinion.


Pye was the paper owner of the land. Graham was the squatter. The land was agricultural land in Berkshire that was ripe for development. It is apparently a prime site worth millions. As far back as 1977 it was recognised that it might have development potential but rather than leave the land empty Graham was allowed to occupy it for grazing. There was initially an informal licence in 1982 and in 1983 the parties entered into a written agreement whereby Graham was allowed to use the land from 1 February to 31 December 1983. It was described as a licence and even if it had been a tenancy would have been outside the protection afforded to agricultural tenancies. The agreement limited Grahams use of the land to grazing or mowing for one cut of grass and restricted the use of the land to the grazing of sheep, cattle and horses. It also expressly provided that any grazing after its expiry would have to be by a new and distinct contract. After the first written grazing agreement came to an end no further agreement was entered into. This was because Pye was advised that it would be more sensible to recover the land because of the possibility of development. Pye required Graham to vacate but ... THIS IS AN EXTRACT OF THE FULL TEXT. TO GET THE FULL TEXT, SEE BELOW

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