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  • 1961-12-15
  • GLR 773-776
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Customary law?-Long possession never ripens into ownership. Estoppel?-Acquiescence?-Matters amounting to acquiescence. Land law?-Purchaser?-Land Development (Protection of Purchasers) Act, 1960, (Act 2).


In or about 1945, the plaintiff E. O. Lartey, acquired a piece of land from the Reindorf family. He built on a portion of the land and granted another portion to a Mr. Adjaku. The defendant went on to another part of the land and erected temporary structures thereon alleging that he was permitted to go on the land by the Nii We family of Christiansborg. The plaintiff sued the defendant for a declaration of title and damages for trespass. On two plans of the land tendered in court, exhibits D and E, the plot in question is shown to belong to a "J. A. Lartey". The defendant contended that the difference in the initials gives the lie to the plaintiff?'s claim for title.


ACTION for declaration of title to land.

In this case, the plaintiff based his claim to the land in dispute upon grant made to him by Dr. C. E. Reindorf in his capacity as head and representative of the family of his father, the late Rev. Christian Carl Reindorf. According to the plaintiff the grant was made originally in 1945, but a deed of conveyance exhibit A was executed for him by the grantor only on the 31st December, 1954. The cause of action is the entry by the defendant upon a portion of the land and erecting some iron sheets structures thereon. The whole of the land claimed by the plaintiff is delineated on the plan exhibit B made on the order of the court, and is thereon edged red.

The area occupied by the defendant is also shown on the same plan exhibit B and edged yellow; that area edged yellow is entirely enclosed within the area claimed by the plaintiff, edged red.

The defendant admitted the acts complained of by the plaintiff; but contended that he holds the area of land he has erected his temporary structure upon, edged yellow on exhibit B, of the Nii We family of Christiansborg either as a licensee or as a tenant. His case, therefore, is that the land belongs to the Nii We family and not to the Reindorf family. Therefore to succeed on his claim, the plaintiff must prove that the land in dispute belonged to the Reindorf family.

Both the Osu Mantse, Nii Noi Dowuna IV, P.W.3, who gave evidence for the plaintiff and Nii Yeboah Nortey, D.W.3, Dzasetse of the Ashanti Blohim quarter of Osu, who gave evidence for the defendant, testified that the Osu elders granted land to the late Rev. Christian Carl Reindorf; and each of them identified exhibit C as a photostat copy of the deed of conveyance which the Osu elders executed in his favour on the 9th October, 1891. Therefore the head stool and the sub-stools of Osu acknowledge the title of the Reindorf family to the land granted to the said Rev. Reindorf as shown and delineated on the plan attached to exhibit C the deed of conveyance.

P.W.2, a surveyor draftsman of the Reindorf family, produced exhibit D, an enlarged photostat copy of the plan attached to exhibit B, and also exhibit E an enlarged tracing of the same plan. Those two plans exhibit D and exhibit E each showed the land as having been laid out into building plots. He, P.W.2, gave evidence that when the Reindorf family made the grant to the plaintiff he demarcated the area on the ground for him, and at the same time marked on each of exhibit D and exhibit E the plot so conveyed to the plaintiff. He pointed out to the court the said plot on exhibit D as well as on exhibit E. On each of those plans the area is marked "J. A. Lartey". It is therefore proved conclusively that the land in dispute in this suit is a portion of the land conveyed to the Reindorf family by exhibit C. [p.775]

Counsel for the defendant submitted that since the initials of the "Lartey" shown on exhibits D and E as the owner of the plot of land now in dispute, are "J.A." and not "E.O." the court should reject the evidence that the land belongs to the plaintiff, and hold that the land belongs to a brother of the plaintiff and not to the plaintiff.

In my opinion the difference in the initials cannot affect the plaintiff?'s claim for the following reasons: firstly, P.W.2 the surveyor draftsman who demarcated the land on the ground and identified it on exhibit D and exhibit E said that plaintiff was the person to whom he demarcated that land, and that when he put down "J. A. Lartey" on exhibit D and exhibit E the person he meant was the plaintiff; secondly, the plaintiff has proved that he and not his brother or any other "Lartey" is the person who built upon and has occupied the land since 1945, and that he was the person with whose leave and licence one Adjaku erected and has been occupying some buildings on portion of the land; thirdly the purchaser under the deed of conveyance exhibit A is "E. O. Lartey" the plaintiff, and the land subject-matter of that deed has been proved to be identical with the area marked "J. A. Lartey" on each of exhibit D and exhibit E. I am therefore bound to hold that the plaintiff is the same person described on exhibit D and exhibit E as "J. A. Lartey", and that he is the owner of the whole of the land edged red on exhibit B.

It was also submitted that the plaintiff is estopped from denying the title of the defendant to the land because of his, the plaintiff?'s, acquiescence in sitting by, while the defendant occupied and used the land as if he were the owner thereof, grew groundnuts and other crops on it and later spending G240 in erecting iron sheet structures on it.

This submission is untenable. By customary law a stranger does not acquire any title to land merely by farming and growing seasonal or other food crops on it, no matter how long he continues to farm it. Again, upon the defendant's own evidence he is nothing more than a tenant or licensee; therefore neither under customary law, nor under the principles of natural justice, equity and good conscience can he, a tenant or licensee, become owner of land by reason of the duration of his tenancy or his licence.

Finally acquiescence which would deprive an owner of his land must be of such a nature as amounts to fraud, conduct which encourages a man acting in ignorance to change his position in or about land such that he cannot be sufficiently compensated in money's worth.

Some questions which may be put in such a case are: did the defendant put up the buildings without warning? Are the buildings of a permanent nature? Is the value of the buildings so high that money cannot be enough compensation for them?

According to the plaintiff he challenged the defendant as soon as he began to erect buildings on the land, and that his opposition to the trespass resulted in the matter going to the police. Again the plaintiff said that the rest of the buildings were put by the defendant while this case was pending. The defendant on the other hand said he erected four [p.776] rooms some six years ago and a tenant occupied them and added two more rooms this year, about Easter time. But the evidence of his tenant D.W.1 gave the impression that the buildings first put up consisted of only one room, that that room was occupied by him alone and it was not until recently when some more rooms were put up that other tenants have come to join him in the house. I am satisfied that the defendant was challenged by the plaintiff as soon as he began to trespass upon the land, that he originally put up only one room, but he has added to it during the pendency of this suit. That taken together with the contradicted evidence that the buildings have existed on the land since about 1950, satisfy me that the defendant put up his buildings well knowing that his right to occupy and possess the land was disputed, and that he erected those buildings at his own risk. Furthermore the buildings in question are just temporary structures, iron sheet buildings, nothing permanent. According to the defendant they cost nothing more than G240 which in my opinion is even an exaggeration.

Now although the Land Development (Protection of Purchasers) Act, 1960,1 has not been pleaded, the court is bound to take cognisance of it so that if it could afford relief to the defendant, the court should grant him such relief. Having considered that Act, I have come to the conclusion that the term "purchaser" used therein must be interpreted to mean a bona fide purchaser for value of title to land, who but for the defect in the title of his vendor or grantor would have been entitled to occupy the land as owner thereof without let or hindrance, and not to a tenant or licensee whose interest in the land could be determined upon notice. Furthermore according to section 1 (1) (b) of the Act, it is only where "the purchaser or a person claiming through him has in good faith erected a building on the land" that he can claim the benefit of the relief provided by the act. I have already found that the defendant erected part of the buildings when he knew that there was opposition to his so doing, and erected the remaining portion during the pendency of this suit. These facts, in my opinion do not show that he erected his temporary buildings in good faith. Therefore the defendant is not entitled to relief under the Act.

The plaintiff has proved his case and is entitled to judgment. There will be judgment for the plaintiff against the defendant for a declaration of his title to the land as described in his statement of claim, G100 damages for trespass, and an injunction restraining the defendant his agents and servants from entering upon the said land or in any way whatsoever interfering with the plaintiff in his ownership possession and occupation of the said land. The plaintiff will have his costs fixed at 50 guineas.


<P>Judgment for plaintiff.</P>

Plaintiff / Appellant

I. Amoo-Lamptey

Defendant / Respondent

E. N. Moore


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