Judith Bray, “Feudal Law: The Case for Reform”

Judith Bray, “Feudal Law: The Case for Reform”, in M. Dixon (ed.), Modern Studies in Property Law vol.5 (Oxford: Hart, 2009), ch.4, 99-121. ISBN: 978-1-84113-960-9.

Reform of feudal law has been included in the Law Commission programme in recent years but has never been formally adopted. The Law Commission Report published in 2001, Land Registration for the Twenty-First Century – A Conveyancing Revolution, called for wholesale reform because the present position was ‘indefensible’. This essay considers whether the Law Commission should engage with reform of feudal law in the future. For most lawyers feudal law lies in the realms of history but there are several significant areas where it affects modern property law.

The essay concentrates on manorial rights and ownership of Crown land and the law of escheat. Manorial rights can be owned separately from land and can give powerful and valuable rights to the owner. The Lord of the Manor had an important role in society which gave him certain rights over those living in the manor but to whom he also owed duties and protection. Today some of the rights remain, often in the hands of people who have no connection with the area other than their title, but the protective role has disappeared. These rights can be highly lucrative but often at the expense of vulnerable people. Ownership of Crown land is shown to be highly complex and very controversial. The essay explores the status of Crown land and the difficult issues that reform will uncover. The law of escheat is a very old doctrine which concerns the destination of land when it ceases to have an owner. It usually passes to the Crown or one of the Duchies but the rules are unnecessarily complex and in urgent need of reform.

The essay forms part of a collection of essays based on papers given at the 7th Biennial Property Law Conference held at Queens’ College, Cambridge, in 2008. They were published in December 2009. They cover a wide spectrum of topics within property law not only in the UK but also across the world.

Judith Bray is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Buckingham and she is also Director of the Part-Time LLB and Deputy Senior Tutor. She teaches Land Law, Trusts and Family Law and she is author of Unlocking Land Law, published by Hodder Education. She is currently engaged in research into the status of Crown land.

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