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In the words of Chief Justice Vaughan in Thomas v Sorrell (1673), a licence:

“[P]roperly passeth no interest, nor alters or transfers property in any thing, but only makes an action lawful which, without it, had been unlawful”

A licence is, therefore, a permission to do something on land. There are several types of licence, each of which will be examined in turn: bare licences, licences coupled with interests and contractual licences. As a quick side note, please note the spelling of licence. When used as a noun, it is spelled as ‘licence’ in the UK, whilst the verb uses an ‘s’: ‘to license’. A licence is granted by a licensor (usually a landowner) to a licensee, for the licensee’s benefit.

Bare licences

A bare licence is the simplest form of a licence: gratuitous permission to do something on land. When you invite guests around for dinner, you are granting them a bare licence to enter onto your property without being classed as a trespasser.


A bare licence can be created expressly, as in the example above, or impliedly. A bare licence can be revoked at any time, as occurred in Robson v Hallett [1967]. It will be a question of fact as to whether a bare licence was excluded or revoked.


A bare licence merely prevents liability for trespass to land. Although, there may be implied terms attached to a bare licence, as illustrated in The Calgarth [1927], where it was said that permission to enter did not extend to permission to slide down a staircase’s balustrade...

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