It hardly ranks as breaking news, as the Government's plans have been trailed for long enough, but we are now a step closer to fully digital conveyancing.
The Land Register, maintained by HM Land Registry (HMLR) contains more than 25 million titles providing evidence of land ownership for approximately 85% of the land mass of England and Wales. It is a little known fact that HMLR was created as long ago as 1862 but, far from being an antiquated Government department, as the press release which accompanied the latest Government announcement on digital conveyancing says, HMLR aims to lead the world for speed, simplicity and an open approach to land data.
In February 2017, HMLR launched a consultation on proposed changes to the Land Registration rules to allow the introduction of fully digital conveyancing documents, including e-signatures. The Government has now decided to go ahead with those changes. The new rules will come into force on 6th April 2018 and will allow (but not make it compulsory...yet) for any disposition of land which must be registered to be carried out using digital documents with electronic signatures, i.e. without paper.
The Government response to the consultation says that most of those who took part were in favour of the proposals. Although some concerns were expressed about online fraud and identity theft, it says that its digital services will enhance the integrity and security of the Land Register against threats from cyber-attacks and digital fraud.
No-one should be surprised by the latest announcement but, for those of us old enough to remember a time before the paperless age when conveyancing more often than not included the challenge of deciphering 100+ years old deeds handwritten in ink on parchment paper and bouts of sneezing from the effects of dusty deed packets, one can't help but feel a little nostalgic.
Richard Wheeldon is a Senior Consultant within Berwins' industry ranked Commercial Property team.