Prescriptive easements: deciding on whether user was as of right

In Poste Hotels Ltd v Cousins [2020] EWHC 582 (Ch) the court had to consider a claim to have acquired by prescription a right to park in a particular place in a private street by a person (Cousins) who had a house in the street. It mattered because Poste Hotels had a right of way over the street to the rear entrance to the hotel. The space over which the defendant claimed the car parking right was in front of the hotel entrance. Exercise of the right claimed would prevent the hotel from using the entrance.

Poste Hotels argued that there was an alternative explanation for the defendant’s parking right; this was that any member of the public could park in the street. The defendant’s use of the street for car parking was the same as any other member of the public.

Morgan J. explained how this kind of dispute should be approached:

‘Where the court is asked to choose between two explanations for the user both explanations must produce the result that the user was lawful. Where there are said to be two explanations for the user, each of them involving a lawful origin for the user, one has to ask whether both explanations are reasonably possible. If there are two reasonably possible lawful origins then the position is as stated in Gardner v Hodgson’s Kingston Brewery Company [1903] AC 229 per Lord Lindley at 239: “[i]f the enjoyment is equally consistent with two reasonable inferences, enjoyment as of right is not established ..” ‘ ([35])

In this case, however, there was no alternative lawful user that could account for the use of the street for car parking; the street was not a public highway so it was unlawful for members of the public to park there ([43]). In any event, the grant of an easement was, in the circumstances, the more likely explanation ([50]).

On the facts, the defendant was able to prove a prescriptive right to park in the street but not specifically in the space in front of the hotel entrance.

Michael Lower

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