Book Review

April 30, 1999

A Report for the Government Study Fellowship, by Ian Burdon. TheRegisters of Scotland
Executive Agency, 1998. ISBN 0 9534180 0 6, £8.95


Rosemary Colquhoun is Secretary of the Scottish Group committee.

This is a Report of a project which explores changes which would be requiredwere electronic registration of title to land to be introduced in the UK. Theemphasis is on the legal and policy issues rather than technical aspects of anysystem designed to facilitate digital registration.

The Report provides a succinct description of the historical development ofconveyancing practice in England and Wales and in Scotland. The backgroundprovided is perhaps of more interest to a historian than to a conveyancer butthe two are not mutually exclusive and an appreciation of the historical contextis useful if not essential for a full understanding of the discussion in thelater part of the Report.

Chapters on recent developments in Canada, Australasia and the Netherlandswhile they have intrinsic interest also provide the author with the opportunityto draw attention to some of the consequences of automation of land registrationand the options available. In a general discussion chapter the issues arising ifautomated registration of title were to be introduced are outlined. These arecomplex with wide-ranging implications. The author himself is alive to thedanger that his discussion may be criticised as being at a conceptual level andbeing so aware he has, for the most part successfully, sought to remain mindfulof the practicalities of conveyancing and registration. He emphasises that theintention of the project was to look at the possibility of utilising informationtechnology to transform the activities and processes surrounding registration oftitle so that it can be attained by digital means. In the author’s viewautomation must involve consideration of the processes involved and hehighlights many of the areas, for instance those of authentication and security,which will require to be addressed.

Reference is made to the Government Green Paper – Theauthor expresses support for the view that it is appropriate now to pursue theprovision of an electronic one-stop shop particularly for sources of publicinformation held by central and local government in specified areas such asconveyancing. He points out that the use in Singapore of LawNet makes a realityof what SCL has long been pressing for in the UK – access to an integrated setof legal resources linking practitioners, government departments and the courts.The author reaches the general conclusion that traditional structures must bere-examined and justified in light of the requirements and expectations of theinformation society.

In his conclusions, the author expresses the view that it is crucial that amove towards automated registration of title proceeds with the full involvementand co-operation of the professionals within the system and emphasises the needfor more analysis and a broader debate before major policy decisions are taken.The Report itself, in the questions it raises and the commentary it provides,will make a useful contribution to that debate.