Treasure Found in Land – Law Problem Question

Craig

In regards to the items found by Craig, assuming they are not classified as treasure using the Treasure Act 1996, it can be suggested that Craig does not have the right of ownership of the items and must return them to Sarah and Tony. This is because he has found them during the course of his employment. Craig has worked at the Manor Farm for many years which is owned by Sarah and Tony. This suggests that he is an employee of Sarah and Tony. The rule is that if items are found during the course of employment, they belong to the employer, as seen in South Staffordshire Water Company v Sharman, where because the employees found the rings during the course of their employment, (they were employed to clean the pool and the rings were found whilst they did so) they belonged to the landowner. Donaldson LJ reinforces this rule in Parker v British Airways Board where he states that “an employee who finds an item during the course of his employment finds that item on behalf of his employer”. What this shows is that unless there is a term in the contract of employment which allows the employee to keep items found during the course of their employment, or the employee finds the items outside the course of their employment, the items belong to the employer. Applying this rule to Craig, he found the items whilst ploughing one of the larger fields of Manor Farm. Although Craig’s job description is not stated, one can assume that he found the items during the course of his employment. If ploughing is not stated in his job description, then Craig can keep the items as he would be working outside the course of his employment, Also, if it is stipulated in the terms of Craig’s contract that he can keep items found during employment, then he can keep the items. If this is not the case, the items will belong to Sarah and Tony as employers and landowners. The reason why the items cannot be said to belong to the true owner is because the law assumes that items found in land belong to the owner of the land, whereas items found on land belong to the true owner. Here, the items were found in land as Craig discovered them whilst ploughing. This is seen in Waverley Borough Council v Fletcher, where Auld LJ stated that when it comes to “items in the ground, the original owner is unlikely to be found, thus the law looks for a substitute owner, which is the owner of the land where the item is found”.

Treasure:

If the items found by Craig are considered treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act, Craig alongside Sarah and Tony may receive compensation. However, this is at the discretion of the Secretary of State. To determine whether the items found by Craig can be considered as treasure, one must look to the criteria set out in the Treasure Act 1996. In regards to the coins, it can be argued that they can be considered as treasure. This is because Craig found numerous coins. This could mean that there are at least two coins or ten or more coins. If the coins fall into the former, they will need to have precious metal on them (gold or silver). If they do not, they can still be classified as treasure if they fall under the latter. As they appear to be very old, they could be at least 300 years old. If this is not the case, then the coins cannot be classified as treasure. If it is the case, then Craig could be able to be reimbursed at the Secretary of States discretion for finding the coins. Although the cup found by Craig is decorated with intricate pattern, suggesting that it is very old and valuable, it is ambiguous as to what metal the cup is made of. If it is made of precious metal, then it can be classified as treasure. However, if not, then it is not treasure. Yet, because the cup was found in the same find as the coins, it can be classified as treasure.  The same can be said for the pottery vase which prima facie can be said to not fall under the definition of treasure as it does not have any precious metal on it. Nevertheless, as it was found in the same find as the coins and cup, it can be considered as treasure. Assuming all these items are classified as treasure, the onus is on Craig to contact the Coroner within 14 days to notify him of the items found, otherwise he will be fined. The reason why it is Craig’s responsibility and not Sarah and Tony is because Craig decided to put the items in his bag and take it to his cottage. He did not inform Sarah and Tony about the items.

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Donald

In regards to the diamond ring found by Donald, it is unclear whether he has the right to keep the ring or not. Although Donald is a guest at the farm, it is not clear whether the area where he found the diamond ring was a public or private area as guests are not usually allowed access to the working areas of the farm. Applying the principle in Bridges v Hawkesworth where it was stated that the parcel which contained notes were found in the public part of the shop and as such the notes were never in the custody of the shopkeeper, if Donald found the ring in a private area, he will not be entitled to keep the diamond ring, and must hand it over to Sarah and Tony as it can be said that they have custody of it.

However, if the diamond ring was found in an area which Donald had access to, it can be argued that he has a right to the diamond ring due to the rule of finders’ keepers established in Armory v Delamirie where it was held that though the plaintiff did not have an absolute right of ownership by finding the jewel, he was entitled to keep the jewel unless the true owner claimed it. Similarly, it can be argued that Donald has the right to keep the diamond ring unless the true owner can be found. Using Donaldson LJ rules on the rights and obligations of a finder in Parker v British Airways Board, Donald is under an obligation to “take all necessary measures to find the true owner of the” diamond ring. As he has not done so (he decides to keep it and give it to his girlfriend), it can be said that he does not have rights to the diamond ring. Also, using Parker v British Airways Board, it can be stated that Sarah and Tony may have a right of ownership to the diamond ring. They would have to show that they manifested an intention to exercise control over the area the diamond ring was found. Yet, this principle is quite ambiguous. How does one manifest an intention to exercise control of an area? A test to suggest an intention to exercise control was not formulated in Parker v British Airways Board. Perhaps one can use the factor Donaldson LJ used in this case, which is that British Airways should have had a policy on lost and found items which was available to the public. Similarly, it can be stated that perhaps Sarah and Tony must showcase that they have a policy on lost and found objects which is available to the public to prove that they had manifested an intention to exercise control over the area the diamond ring was found. Nonetheless, as stated by Bray, “Donaldson LJ concept of control is harsh as it leaves some doubt in the law as to what exactly a landowner must do to manifest an intention to control the land”. This would mean that if Sarah and Tony do not have a policy that is available to the public, Donald can keep the diamond ring provided he has tried to find the true owner.

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Assuming the diamond ring was found in an area which Donald can access, there is a problem posed as it is ambiguous as to if the diamond ring was found in or on land. This is because it was buried in some long grass. As stated by Stevens, the law is unclear in this area. The distinction is important to make as it will determine who has the better right of ownership to the diamond ring. If the diamond ring can be said to be found on land, then Donald is entitled to the diamond ring if he has tried to find the true owner. If it was found in land, then Sarah and Tony will be entitled to the diamond ring as it is assumed that things found in land belong to the owner of the land. Another reason why Sarah and Tony may be entitled to the diamond ring if it was found in land is because Donald’s status would have changed to that of a trespasser as he had to reach into the ground to pick up the diamond ring- he has gone beyond his authorisation as a guest. However, it can be argued using the reasoning of Auld LJ in Waverley Borough Council v Fletcher that Donald is not a trespasser and that the diamond ring was found on land. This is because picking up the diamond ring might not “have interfered with the land or damaged it”. Yet, it can be argued that because the diamond ring was buried in some long grass, damage might have been done as perhaps Donald would have had to pull the grass from the roots to retrieve it. If it is the latter, Donald is a trespasser and has exceeded his licence on the land. If it is the former, Donald can keep the ring, provided he has tried to find the true owner.

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Treasure:

The diamond ring is not treasure as it does not fit the definitions given in the Treasure Act 1996. The age of the ring is not told, it is not made of precious metal (gold or silver), neither was it found alongside any item that can be defined as treasure. Thus, the diamond ring cannot be classified as treasure.

Eric

In regards to the £50 note found by Eric, it can be argued that Eric has a right of ownership to the money (provided he tries to find the true owner). As Eric was in the garden on the day that it was opened to the public, it can be said that he found the money in the public part of the farm. This can be seen in Bridges v Hawkesworth where it was stated that the notes were dropped in the public part of the shop and as such they were never in the custody of the shopkeeper. Likewise, it can be said that Sarah and Tony were never in custody of the £50 note as it was found in a public part. Also, one can argue that the £50 note could go unnoticed until someone saw it. However, using Parker v British Airways Board, it can be said that Sarah and Tony may have a right of ownership to the £50 note. They would have to show that they manifested an intention to exercise control over the area the £50 was found. This could be done by them showcasing that they have a policy on lost and found items which is available to the public. If they do not have such a policy, Eric can keep the £50 note, provided he tries to find the true owner.

Conclusion

Craig does not have a right to ownership of the items which he found as they were found during the course of his employment. It can be said that these items are treasure so he would have to notify the coroner of his finds. Donald, depending on whether he has access to the area the diamond ring was found may have a right of ownership, but he must try to find the true owner of the diamond ring. Eric is entitled to keep the £50 note, provided Sarah and Tony have not manifested an intention to exercise control of the area he found it on.


[1896] 2 QB 44

[1982] QB 1004, 1017

1996] QB 334, 344

Treasure Act 1996, s 10(3)

ibid s1(1)(a)(ii) and (iii)

ibid s1(1)(a)(ii)

ibid s3(3)

ibid (n 5)

Treasure (n 4) s1(1)(a)(i)

ibid s1(1)(d)(i)

Treasure (n 9)

ibid s8(1) and (3)(a)-(c)

(1851) 21 LJQB 75

(1722) 1 Str 505 KB, [1] (Pratt CJ)

ibid (n 2) 10

ibid

ibid (n 2) 1019 (Donaldson LJ)

Judith Bray, ‘The law on treasure from a land lawyer’s perspective’ [2013] Conv 265, 267

John Stevens, ‘Finders weepers- landowners keepers'[1996] Conv 216, 219

ibid (n 3)

Treasure (n 4) s1

ibid(n 13)

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