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Law Society chief criticises delay in introduction of electronic Conveyancing

Failing to ‘digitise’ Conveyancing could damage the UK economy, according to Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson

Mr Hudson criticised the land registry for shelving its ‘e-conveyancing’ project last year, when addressing a recent UN Economic Commission for Europe event on the role of land registration in economic recovery.

The Law Society Gazette reports that he also warned about the lack of security in present title transfer arrangements, contrasting the position in England to that in other EU countries with national electronic identity systems.

Electronic Conveyancing scheme for England has been abandoned

Although the land registry has now digitised land registration records for England and Wales, Conveyancing transfers are still paper documents which have to be submitted and processed manually. Last year, a programme for end-to-end electronic Conveyancing was abandoned, involving the write-off of some £11m in development costs.

Chief land registrar Malcolm Dawson told the conference:

“Secure land tenure and property rights are essential for the stable economy of countries and effective land registration is the basis for long-term global economic growth. HM Land Registry’s 150 year history has contributed to one of the most vibrant and confident property markets in the world. However it’s not just about us, we need to work collaboratively with the lending community and the legal sector to stimulate economic growth. It is important that we do not impose solutions on the market but work with them to realise the benefits for all parties. ” 

Defending the registry’s record on electronic innovation, he said that the work on e-conveyancing showed ‘technically, it worked, but it was a bit ahead of its time’. Some parts of the programme were implemented, and Mr Dawson pointed out that 95% of initial property searches and nearly all mortgage discharges are now conducted electronically.

While Conveyancing might not seem to be a major factor in the recovery of the UK economy, the conference highlighted the central role that land registration institutions play in providing the confidence and security necessary for a functioning economy and providing confidence for the property lending market.

High degree of security essential for electronic Conveyancing 

Any system of electronic Conveyancing must provide a high degree of security for property owners, buyers and mortgage lenders. At present this seems to be a problem area – can any system be totally hacker-proof?

It also needs to be a practical system that can be readily adopted by Conveyancing Solicitors and others involved in the property market.  

In part due to technological improvements seen in many other areas of life, today’s clients expect home purchases to proceed much faster than they currently do. The land registration system has certainly improved over the past few years, but many of the traditional delays involved in Conveyancing remain in place, and some will do so until the whole process has been overhauled.

Before any system of electronic Conveyancing can be introduced, considerable work needs to be done to optimise large parts of the present system. This will require collaboration from all agencies involved, including the government, it is not something that the Law Society or the land registry can do on their own.  

Until then, Conveyancing Solicitors should do their best to make the present system work as efficiently as possible, so that clients buying and selling their homes today do not experience unnecessary delays.

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