Property and the law of finders

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis considers the position of finders in English law, and particularly the nature and basis of property rights acquired by finders. Its first major aim is to identify and explain the various propositions clearly and authoritatively. The second is to show that, when the full range of applicable laws is appreciated (and especially when applicable rules of property are understood in the light of countervailing rules of crime and tort) the English law of finds can be shown to be based on coherent legal doctrine and sound public policy.

Shortly stated, the thesis is that modern cases on the rights of finders are best explained as depending on a concept of possession which emerged in the common law late in the nineteenth century. The thesis explains the evolution of this concept of possession and its relationship to the rights of the finder. Arguing against suggestions that at common law specific obligations are imposed on the finder, or that her acquisition of right is somehow qualified by the presence of certain extraneous facts related either to her behaviour or to the facts of loss, it establishes a wide property rule in favour of the finder: in every case where a finder takes possession of goods, she acquires a property right in the nature of ownership. But it does not follow that the finder can make use of her find with impunity. The thesis argues that her conduct is curtailed by certain rules of theft and conversion, which provide sound reasons for her to act in favour of the loser. Accordingly, English law is shown to evidence a coherent public policy in relation to lost goods.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorNorma Dawson (Supervisor) & David Capper (Supervisor)

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