Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


The Atrato

It is exceedingly difficult to think of any subject in modern land law that differs more in rule and effect according to whether title is registered or unregistered than the law of adverse possession. The unregistered view is brutally simple: land is a precious resource, and those that ignore, forget or lose their rights over it should not be protected by the law. If the deeds, or a good root of title, cannot be found, adverse possession is a socially and economically efficacious mechanism to ensure that the land does not go to waste. That, however, is anathema to the registered view: compulsory registration of title removes the need for deeds and roots, and guarantees that those estates entered upon the register are conclusive and binding as against the world, including and especially mere trespassers. With over 85 per cent of the titles in England and Wales now registered, the reach of the new provisions on adverse possession contained in the Land Registration Act 2002 is greater than ever, and they have rendered the possible application of adverse possession so unlikely as, in practice, virtually to abolish it. This is why the entry into force of those provisions has been followed by a deluge of applications to the Land Registry by the major owners of unregistered estates—local authorities, institutions and the Crown. So enticing is the safety net of the 2002 Act that many such bodies are applying for voluntary first registration of title in order to frustrate attempts to wrest titles from them by adverse possession; and this was precisely the reason that Port of London Authority v. Ashmore (The Atrato) 1 came before the High Court.
The Atrato was a flat-bottomed sailing barge, purchased by the defendant in 1980. Since 1983, it had been tethered to Albion Wharf in the Thames, a stone’s throw from Battersea Bridge. The Port of London Authority,2 owners of the fee simple of the foreshore and bed



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