Highland Titles Scam

The title for this blog is modelled on the website highlandtitlesscam.com.

*EDIT 23 August 2016 – that url now directs to a suitably bland website. Some of the original content at that URL is archived here*

Despite the url, it is a website that defends the business model and practice of a company called Highland Titles Limited.

Earlier this week, it found itself in a bit of a Twitter-storm. This storm, Storified here, involved a number of Scots law qualified individuals, including me.

Highland Titles was moved to reply [EDIT: the original reply has been taken down, but see the comparison below which features some of the text of that reply].

Although there is no reference to my Storify in that page, I suspect someone involved with that website has read it. Here is a comparison of extracts of the two pieces of writing.

As an academic, if I had two students submitting work that was this similar I would be asking to speak to them both about plagiarism. Also as an academic, I would be a little disappointed in the legal content of one of the pieces of writing, although I have to admit it is a masterful piece of selective prose.

Another masterful piece of carefully worded prose is provided by the Scots law firm J&H Mitchell, whose “Scottish Legal Advice” is linked to by Highland Titles. Although meticulously worded, it does nothing to counter the arguments Twitter user @loveandgarbage was probing away with (supported by the most recent edition of “Scottish Land Law” by Gordon and Wortley).

Since I published the Storify, literally thousands of people have read it. No-one has convinced me my line of thinking is incorrect.

As a user of social media who advertises himself as an academic lawyer, it is fair to say I have a number of legally minded followers. Not one of them has challenged me. In fact, my thoughts have been shared with gusto by other lawyers, within and outwith Scotland.

And this is not a new topic of conversation. I am not the first person to opine on this matter.

Here is a letter to a newspaper from Dr. Craig Anderson, of Robert Gordon University, explaining the law in clear and simple terms.

Here is an article from Registers of Scotland which appears in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland. (It will be recalled that the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland is a very important woman in the grand scheme of Scots property law.)

Here is an article co-authored by my colleague Dr Douglas Bain (with Catherine Bury of Ledingham Chalmers) which appears in the Aberdeen Student Law Review.

Paragraph 12.83 of the Scottish Law Commission’s Report (2010, number 222) on Land Registration is also in point where (in relation to the earlier legislation) it is noted.

Section 4(2)(b) of the 1979 Act forbids the Keeper to accept souvenir plots for registration in the Land Register…We have seen it suggested that the non-registrability of souvenir plots means that ownership in them passes by simple contract. That is not so (emphasis added).

Choose your own friends here. I have made my choice and I am happy with the company I keep.

So what happens now?

In the vernacular, it is time for someone to shit or get off the pot.

In property law terms, someone who has been made “owner” by Highland Titles could try to register a plot of land with the Keeper. Such a person is bound to fail in that quest owing to section 22 of the Land Registration etc. (Scotland) Act 2012.

Alternatively, someone who has been made “owner” by Highland Titles could raise an action called a declarator at the relevant Sheriff Court, to establish who the owner of the land is. If that was to happen, I would very much enjoy watching Highland Titles’ argument develop in court (if indeed Highland Titles got involved). I would bring the popcorn.

Another possibility would be if someone were to occupy the land in question, with a view to obtaining ownership by possessing the land for a certain period of time and registering a deed with the Keeper (if she accepted that deed, such acceptance being by no means guaranteed) (this process is known as positive presciption in Scots law; in English law and similar legal systems this is called “adverse possession”). The owner of the land is, as you would expect, entitled to take steps to stop this happening. Which “owner” would step forward to object here? (Nota bene: I am not advocating that anyone actually go to Glencoe, or wherever the land actually is, to do this. I am simply flushing out a perfectly competent Scots law device that could operate.)

Stepping away from Scots property law, but staying within private law, is defamation relevant here? If Highland Titles is actually bothered by what is going on, a defamation action could be raised against the “Twitter trolls”. (For my part, I am comfortable with everything I have written on my blog, on Storify or on social media, even when I told Highland Titles to “fuck right off”.)

Whilst all of this has provided a bit of entertainment and hopefully a bit of education, I think that is probably enough from me on the matter, but I will note a couple of side issues before I go. First, two people contacted me to highlight the land management practices undertaken by Highland Titles: see here and here. These links are offered without comment. A further side issue relates to titles, and I do not mean title to land here. I have some new social media contacts from the world of Scottish clans, who found the whole debate interesting. I suspect they have a view on the model of lordship offered by Highland Titles.

Finally, does this blog make me some kind of über-troll? Only if trolling is now taken to mean having a knowledge of Scots law and a wish for it to be applied properly.

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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22 Responses to Highland Titles Scam

  1. A Reader says:

    Is there not a Human Rights aspect to this? I could at least see the possibility of a P1A1 claim – that the land owner has a right to sell as they wish, and any refusal by the Register to record that transfer is not HRA complaint?

    • basedrones says:

      If A1P1 said everyone “is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions” and nothing else, then a restriction like this might engage A1P1. BUT there is important further wording in A1P1 that allows for control of use of property in accordance with “the general interest”. Plenty of case law is available on that point.

      • A Reader says:

        Yes, agreed re general interest. What’s the case law like on tests of general interest and the margin of appreciation?

  2. Pingback: I can’t believe it’s not ownership – or the curious tale of HIghland TItles selling | Love and Garbage – some commonplace musings

  3. scotclans says:

    things are hotting up on the Clan Facebook page you mention above – the owner of HT has waded in with a string of personal insults and his cohorts are backing him up with some fake Facebook accounts. we are generously supplying copious lengths of rope 🙂

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  7. Laird Lucan says:

    Some of the stuff on highlandtitlesscam.com appears less than honest. Take this page ‘debunking’ a Mirror story about the Telephone Preference Register and branding the reporter, Nick Sommerlad, ‘a slovenly reporter too lazy to check his facts’:

    http://highlandtitlesscam.com/hoaxes/

    Then compare these two documents:

    http://alderney.gov.gg/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=75962&p=0
    http://alderney.gov.gg/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=75956&p=0

    Hmm.

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  9. Laird Lucan says:

    More posts have been deleted from highlandtitlesscam. A copy from 9th February is currently available in the Google cache:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:WaeGywz3ZzUJ:highlandtitlesscam.com/posts/

    The first post in the cached copy (“Lies from Weston Park”, 19th January 2015) is worth a read.

    It picks up on an assertion the Earl of Bradford makes on his website that Dr Bevis was responsible for an episode of cyberbullying reported in the Evening Standard (“Cyber attackers target restaurateur earl ‘for warning against buying fake titles’”, 24th July 2012) in which someone posted fake Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard articles about an outbreak of food poisoning at the Earl’s Porters English Restaurant.

    And of course highlandtitlesscam debunks the assertion: “Having finally caught my breath, I would advise you to treat this with the contempt that it deserves… To invent such a story is sad. To lay it at the door of a man with charitable intentions and a track record of good works is nasty…”

    The site debunks the (correct) Mirror report on the Telephone Preference Register with similar verve.

    The burning question is why, if the Earl’s assertion – which he has made very publicly – is untrue, the response was a denial on highlandtitlesscam rather than a lawyer’s letter? It would be interesting to see the matter proceed to a libel action as then court orders could be obtained to determine the ownership of the domain with the fake newspaper articles.

    Anyone see this happening?

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  12. lairdofthemanor says:

    From what I can see souvenir land can be registered in England & Ireland, I registered 18ft of land I bought in Northern Ireland for the grand sum of £18 with the Northern Ireland Land Registry. Surely, the issue here is that unsuspecting people do not realise that the Scottish Government are not playing fair? This is such a simple fix, RoS should be permitted to register the sale of souvenir land plots. Job done.

    • basedrones says:

      What do you mean by “the Scottish Government are not playing fair”? The rules of the (Scottish) game are eminently clear, and have been since the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979.

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