Good fences make good neighbours

Edit: For a recent example of an incident blown out of all of its original proportion (there have been many, but they rarely make the authorised reports) see the injunctive proceedings of Nadanic v Fotopoulos [2009] VSC 554.

This familiar phrase, which is often misunderstood, was first coined by Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall. (Coincidentally, it was also Frost who wrote, “A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has a better lawyer.”)

Though Frost intended the statement ironically, it’s a truism of modern life that good fences do make for good neighbours, and that bad fences frequently lead to court appearances. Statistics from the Attorney-General suggest that around 25% of anti-stalking applications to the Magistrates’ Court involve or began as disputes between neighbours.

These disputes are so common that Victoria has its own Fences Act 1968 about who pays for a fence, and how much they pay. The Act obliges owners of adjoining properties to properly build and maintain fences, and authorises the Magistrates’ Court to appoint an arbitrator or adjudicate the dispute if the parties can’t agree.

By the time the parties engage barristers and attend court, the opportunity to resolve the dispute between themselves might be long lost. Before that point is reached, the Victoria Law Foundation’s advice in Neighbours, the law & you might help avoid litigation.

The Court itself encourages parties to try mediation before asking a magistrate to decide their case.

The Dispute Settlement Centre mediates more than just fencing disputes though, and in some limited cases might offer a better solution to complaints that also fall in the Stalking Intervention Orders Act. This article from The Age has more information.

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