Electronic Conveyancing Another Step Closer

The New South Wales Department of Lands has announced that its transition to an electronic register of land titles will be complete by December 2006. The transition is a massive undertaking, involving the digitisation of some 66 000 paper certificates of title and issuance of transaction access credentials to several thousand conveyancers and legal professionals. From the article, it appears that the transition will also be used to bring 15 000 odd remaining general law parcels within the Torrens system:

The NSW government expects it will save people conveying or dealing with land formerly held as old system title about $2000.

Minister for Lands Tony Kelly said that a single register would help synchronise the key data sets of the NSW Spatial Data Infrastructure, which supports decision making across government for planning, service delivery and natural resource and emergency management.

‘Over 300 government agencies have dealings with land on a day-to-day basis and will benefit from having access to information from a complete and accurate, digitised land title register’, he said.

The entire project will cost AU$6.2 million. It is highly questionable whether it will narrow existing avenues for fraud, with some experts claiming that the new system will be more vulnerable to exploitation, particularly silent alteration. Verifying the identity of a purported registered proprietor remains a problem under any system, especially an electronic one. However, because almost all fraud occurs in the physical absence of the registered proprietor, by increasing the number of transactions able to be completed electronically — without face-to-face contact — the potential for false impersonation or other mischief substantially increases with an electronic conveyancing system.

However, the new register may prove a more effective and timely mechanism by which to inform caveators and other interested parties of dealings with respect to land. The instantaneous nature of an electronic conveyancing system certainly promises to eliminate the ‘race to the titles office’ that was hitherto the staple exercise of many property lawyers. Whether it can more successfully meet the objectives of Sir Robert Torrens remains to be seen.