This case was seen by the King’s Bench Division. It concerned the definition of land and when one can acquire a property right to an object they find.
A landowner had leant his manor house to the army during the First World War. During this tenancy, an officer found a brooch lodged within a windowsill. He handed the brooch to the police in order to find the original owner, but the police gave it to the landowner. The officer sued for legal title of the brooch, but the landowner claimed as it was found on his land he had the strongest claim to legal title. The court disagreed, granting the officer legal title.
The issue was whether the officer had a property right to the brooch, or if the landowner held title to it.
This finding adhered to the finders keepers rule, which states that if a person finds an object and the previous owner of that object cannot be found, they subsequently inherit the legal title to that object.
However, there are three exceptions to this rule. Firstly, if the object is embedded within the land, rather than simply found on it, the landowner will have the strongest claim to legal title. An object is embedded if the ground has to be disturbed or damaged for the object to be picked up.
The second exception is if the owner of the land on which the object is found has manifested an intention to own all objects found on the land. This will generally take effect for objects found within a private residence (e.g. a house), but will be more difficult to apply in a public space (e.g. an airport).
The third exception is if the finder has acted wrongly or dishonestly in order to find the object. This includes trespassing on the land on which the object is found, and not attempting to find the previous owner of the object. If this is the case, the landowner will have the stronger claim to the legal title of the object. None of these exceptions applied in this case.
- King’s Bench Division  – Decision Approved
- Defining Property Rights
- Armory v. Delamirie
- Bridges v. Hawkesworth
- Waverley Borough Council v. Fletcher
- Elwes v. Brigg Gas Co.
- Parker v. British Airways
Reviewed By Ross Birkbeck
Submitted By Louis Stripp
First Published 16th July 2021