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Revisiting reverters: thank goodness for resits

  • United Kingdom
  • Real estate
  • Education - Briefings
  • Real estate sector


Rittson-Thomas and others v Oxfordshire County Council [2021] UKSC 13

Following a wait of just two years since the release of the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the Supreme Court has now handed down its decision in this important case.

For a recap of the facts and the law, please see our Lawbite from March 2019.

The unanimous, and surprising, decision sees the Court of Appeal’s decision overturned with the Supreme Court Justices ruling that the physical vacation of the site by the school was not sufficient to trigger the reverter. The Council was saved by the fact that it had clearly documented its intention to sell the existing site and have the proceeds go towards the costs of the move and new site.

For education providers and developers alike, this is a very important decision. The more literal approach to statutory interpretation taken by the Court of Appeal exacerbated difficulties for education boards looking to transfer whole schools to new sites without risking losing the value of the existing site. The purposive approach taken by the Supreme Court provides a more realistic view of the way in which these schemes are organised, giving greater leeway to councils to structure the moves to better maintain the continuity and quality of pupils’ education.

Parties seeking to rely on the Supreme Court’s decision will still need to tread carefully, being sure to document each and every step, decision and rationale. Still, the pragmatism of the Supreme Court is to be welcomed as it ends a long period of uncertainty and, arguably, reflects the true intention of the historic statutes governing reverters.