Few English lawyers would dissent from the following two claims about the content of English law: (1) in general, a person acquires a title to, or in respect of, a chattel if and when he or she takes possession of it; and (2) titles to, or in respect of, chattels are relative. This paper argues that neither claim is as straightforward as it seems. Legal scholars have advanced fundamentally different accounts of title and, accordingly, of the doctrine of relative title. Everything, or almost everything, hinges on the answer to one question: is a title a property right, or is it something else? The answer to that question is tied to the answer to the following question: is the fact that a person has obtained possession of a chattel a condition, in general, of that person acquiring, in English law, a property right of a certain kind in that chattel? A number of prominent property lawyers have claimed that it is. This paper is primarily concerned with a different claim, namely, that, in English law, the fact that a person was in possession of a chattel is a condition of the law deeming that person to be the owner of the chattel. It argues that this claim is not implausible. It is supported by an important line of cases. And the standard objections to it are far from insurmountable. It is suggested that, if that claim is kept in mind, one can make better sense of the otherwise obscure view that, in general, a person's possession of a chattel gives that person a legally-recognised claim to the ownership of it, and thus a title that is not a property right.
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