Finding the right expert
When searching for an expert to assist the courts in resolving property boundary or public rights of way disputes the legal professions are faced with an impressive array of surveyors who, on the face of it, are qualified to provide the expertise sought.
For instance, the letters FRICS after a person’s name will impress. Fellows of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) are indeed professional surveyors who have achieved the right to be Fellows. Unfortunately, the term ‘surveyor’ covers a multitude of skills and professions, and RICS membership includes them all.
Depending on which area a surveyor decides to specialise in he could become involved in:
- planning and creating cities
- protecting the environment
- designing the latest computer game
- laying out golf courses
- helping to organise festivals
- discovering a lost work of art
- map making
- laying pipelines
- oil prospecting
- precise positioning
- airspace obstructions
- insurance assessment
- property sales
- building safety
- building refurbishment
- drainage and irrigation systems
- satellite imagery analysis.
As you can see, surveying is indeed an extremely diverse profession! But the person you actually need for surveying property boundaries and rights of way should possess specialist knowledge of a very narrow area of expertise.
So how does a legal professional find an expert suitably qualified and experienced in the narrow field of surveying property boundaries and public rights of way?
The legal professional will be aware that all property transfers in Britain must be registered with Land Registry (LR). Land Registry compile and issue title plans which identify the land transferred. It is a legal requirement that those title plans must be based upon the contemporary Ordnance Survey (OS) large-scale mapping. It follows that to accurately interpret what is, (and is not), shown on LR title plans, a comprehensive knowledge of the specifications, (both current and historic), of OS mapping is essential.
It is also a great advantage if the expert has a detailed knowledge of the working practices of OS and LR, including the interpretation and use of aerial photography which is used extensively to update OS maps, GPS which is increasingly used by OS ground surveyors, and the effects of various revision and resurvey methods which OS has used since its inception in the early 19th century. Surveys for LR title plans have in the past been undertaken by either LR’s own surveyors or OS surveyors, but all of them are now undertaken by OS surveyors.
As for public rights of way, Definitive Maps accompanied by Definitive Statements are the legal record of public rights of way. The Definitive Maps are OS mapping, (usually at 1:10,560 or 1:10,000 scale "derived" from larger scale OS mapping), to which the appropriate authority has added the routes of public rights of way. Once again it is a great advantage if an expert is chosen who has knowledge and experience of OS mapping specifications and working practices, and in particular the apparent anomalies displayed by OS "derived" mapping.
Experience and qualifications
Therefore it is inadvisable to choose an expert simply by looking at the ‘letters after their name’. There are other factors to be taken into account:
- Consider the expert’s CV
- Ask for testimonials from legal professionals who have used the surveyor in the past
- Ask colleagues to recommend experts they have used in similar cases
- Ask the expert to give examples of his involvement in similar cases
The ideal qualities of an expert required to assist the courts in resolving these disputes are:
- Evidence of relevant survey training – courses completed and qualifications gained
- Evidence of training in expert witness work
- Evidence of knowledge of the Civil Procedure Rules and associated Practice Directions, especially CPR Part 35 which deals with the obligations and requirements of expert witnesses
- A track record of expert witness work
- Knowledge of Ordnance Survey mapping specifications, current and historic
- Experience of surveying and revising Ordnance Survey maps
- Knowledge and experience of Ordnance Survey working practices, current and historic
- Knowledge and experience of the interpretation of aerial photography
- Knowledge of Land Registry working practices
- Experience of undertaking surveys for Land Registry