June 30, 2002


The timing of the publication of the Land Registry’s consultation document on e-conveyancing (www.e-conveyancing.gov.uk) meant that there was little point in this magazine merely reporting the proposals as they had been widely reported in mainstream publications. We have recently included considerable coverage of the general issues involved; indeed this issue looks at PISCES, which is arguably a few steps ahead of the proposals. Anyway, it would be a useful investment for those involved in conveyancing to look at the proposals themselves, which are not even all that long – if you have not seen them, they are of course downloadable from the Web site mentioned above.

My only embarrassment is that we do not offer a critical analysis of the expectations and questions raised. The development ofe-conveyancing is of great importance and SCL rightly sees that it has a major role to play in adding to the information available to those, including the Land Registry, making decisions about next steps. A group (led by Maitland Kalton) has therefore been established and is making a detailed assessment of the proposals, offering all SCL members an opportunity to put forward their views. It will then distill that brew and put forward an official SCL response. They have until 30 August, and will probably need all of that time.

So in the light of that process and all the expertise on the subject within SCL, a handful of words from me saying thate-conveyancing is a good thing does not really advance matters. But it is worth noting that the proposals differ from some. They extend procedures which already exist rather than looking to create radical solutions – you may very well already use electronic means to communicate with lenders, the use of Electronic Notification of Discharge is the norm and there are increasing numbers of users of the NLIS channels. Because the proposals build rather than looking to impose complete innovations in a legendarily conservative area, the broad sweep of the proposals will come to life. I have strong doubts about the projected timing (2006 for full implementation) – if you plan to retire to the sun rather than adjust to the new regime, I think you have at least eight years in which to acquire the villa – but I don’t think we will have to wait much past 2010 for full implementation and, because we will see increasingly rapid change long before then, you may find your normal revenue source in decline well before then. Still, if that was your plan, you probably would not be reading this.

In terms of your firm’s strategic IT planning, 2010 is not far off and, if my caution is misplaced, 2006 is just round the corner. Tough decisions have to be made now about what is the best solution if you are to compete effectively when the new system has full effect. It is nonsense to suggest that firms can stand aside and wait years to see what happens before making decisions about such fundamental matters as NLIS channels; these are issues which you must begin to address now. If you try and make a switch to the new system at the point of its supposed implementation, you will find that you are left floundering behind your competitors who have already got to cruising speed as you are trying to change into second gear.

I think that means that we are likely to see a considerable build up in IT investment over the next few years. Some of the money will turn out to be ill spent because the predictions about the way e-conveyancing will develop can never be 100% accurate – that’s just tough. All you can do is minimise that wasted expenditure – and we will do our best to bring a range of expertise to these pages so that you have access to a variety of opinions on the way to go.


Is it, can it possibly be, as bad as everyone makes out?

Technology Web sites, and lots of anecdotal evidence, seem to suggest that the big push from BT to sell broadband and its advantages is likely to hit a wall – a wall made of the very real disadvantages of the system. The legion of tales of simple inefficiency at every level were viewed by me with some cynicism – I wondered if some of those emphasising the horrors had an interest in seeing BT discredited so as to loosen their control over the essential infrastructure, and BT fail to recognise Calne as a major commercial centre so broad band was not available and my interest was purely as observer. Anyway, horror tales had a plus side – when did you last get upset when some inessential service stopped functioning?

I became less sceptical after the difficulties I encountered in getting BT to write something to address the difficulties lawyers face. After a great deal of effort we did get tips of general application (see p22) but nothing that really grappled with the idea that law firms might need some special guidance. I’d like to hear from as many SCL members as possible on the subject. How was it for you? Are there tips you can pass on? Are the difficulties exaggerated. We will run a feature on these experiences if you let me have the basic material arising from your experiences.


Finally, I would like to recognise that some people can be bothered. Leafing through the latest record of responses to the paper from the LCD on modernising the courts, it was good to see that identifiable SCL points were there, and appeared to have been acknowledged. But I was even more impressed to see that Axxia had responded and I think I detected their points too among the anonymised report. Axxia and all other SCL members who responded deserve congratulations for taking the trouble to do so. At the risk of returning to my opening words about e-conveyancing, it shows that it does matter and it does make a difference.