As you travel through the Scottish countryside, you may wonder who owns much of the landscape which remains unstirred. The fact is that large parts of Scotland are still unregistered — seemingly ownerless.

To take ownership, it is possible for another person, say your cousin, to grant you the right to the land even though they don't own it. The phrase for granting this right in Scots law is a non domino disposition (Latin may be a dead language to most, but not to Scottish solicitors). You can then apply to register your a non domino disposition in the Land Register.

While it may be an attractive option for the likes of property developers, in practice, taking ownership of the ownerless is not as easy as finders keepers. This blog highlights the difficulties with registering a non domino dispositions and disputes which can arise, sometimes years later.

1. It has become increasingly difficult to register a non domino dispositions

    In recent years, the process for registering a non domino dispositions has become rather long-winded. There are many steps which applicants have to overcome, for example, potential owners must be notified. Needless to say, parties appear through the woodwork at this stage, claiming their right to land which they never knew existed.

    Then of course there is the "one-shot rule"; your application to the Keeper has to be right the first time round. Given the volume of evidence required by the Keeper, there is a large scope for error. The Keeper allows for some leeway in these cases, but not much.

    2. Even after registration, your right to the land can still be challenged

      The Keeper does not warrant your right to land which arises from a non domino dispositions. This means that until you have possessed the land for 10 years "openly, peaceably and without judicial interruption", your right can still be challenged. In the meantime, another party can legitimately come along claiming ownership, paving the way for a costly dispute.

      3. And even after 10 years, you still might not be the valid owner

        You can learn from the MacGregors in Ardnamurchan Estates Limited v Michael MacGregor & Karen MacGregor. The couple in this case came across 5,000 square yards of land in the Ardnamurchan peninsula. They transferred ownership of the land to themselves (bear in mind what I said earlier about getting a cousin to do this for you) and registered their a non domino disposition in the General Register of Sasines.

        Fast forward to 2018, Ardnamurchan Estates Limited claimed that they were the true owners of the land and recently succeeded in getting the land back. Even though the MacGregors had possessed the land for well over ten years, the couple could not be the valid owners as they had granted themselves the right in the first place.


        Sophie Airth

        Senior Solicitor