Protecting Your Property And Avoiding 'Mistakes'
The High Court case of Antoine v Barclays Bank Plc & Others  EWHC 395 (Ch) relates to property fraud and the meaning of “mistake” for the purposes of rectifying Land Registry titles.
Trevor Antoine was the personal representative of the deceased former owner (Joseph Antoine) of a property in London. The property was left vacant for several years after Joseph Antoine’s death. Trevor Antoine resided abroad, was never registered as proprietor and therefore did not become aware of matters relating to the property for a substantial period of time.
A third party (Mr Taylor) alleged that Joseph Antoine had entered into loan agreements with him totalling £11,000 prior to his death (which Mr Taylor claimed Joseph Antoine had defaulted on) and the property in London was offered as security. After the death of Joseph Antoine, Mr Taylor enforced the loan agreements, obtained a court order vesting in him title to the property and the Land Registry gave effect to the court order by registering Mr Taylor as proprietor. Mr Taylor subsequently charged the property to Woolwich Mortgages (part of Barclays). It was ultimately discovered that Mr Taylor was in fact acting fraudulently and had forged the loan agreements which were the basis of the court order and subsequently the charge over the property.
The questions for the Court to answer were therefore whether the registration of Mr Taylor as proprietor and the subsequent charge were mistakes and should be rectified.
It was accepted that Court orders are valid and binding until such time as they are set aside. It was also accepted that for the Land Registry the question of “mistake” is judged at the time of registration.
Mr Taylor as proprietor
At the time of registration, the Court order was valid and was independent of the forged documents and therefore there was no mistake in registering Mr Taylor as proprietor. However, as the court order had been obtained fraudulently it could be declared void and set aside, with legal title being restored to Trevor Antoine.
Mr Taylor’s charge
Mr Taylor as proprietor was therefore entitled to exercise his owner’s powers and charge the property to the bank. The Judge held that as the charge was entered into at a time when the court order was valid, no mistake had been made and the charge must remain on the title.
Ultimately the charge to the Woolwich remained on the title for the property.
The outcome of this case is highly unfortunate on the part of Trevor Antoine, due to the fact that despite recovering title to the property, the property still remains subject to a charge. The Judge recognised that Trevor Antoine would suffer injustice by the result of this case, however, she considered her primary concern was to maintain the indefeasibility of the register and therefore protecting the public interest.
Property fraud is high on property professionals’ radar at the moment. In order to assist property professionals and the general public alike, the Land Registry have set up a Property Alert service whereby you can monitor up to ten properties by registering these with the Property Alert Service. The Land Registry will send email alerts when official searches and applications are received against a monitored property and therefore swift action can be taken by you if these appear suspicious. The service is free and more detail is available via the Land Registry website.
If Trevor Antoine had set up this service he potentially could have avoided this fraud in the first place.
by Anya James-Weller