Conveyancing goes electronic

KERRY ADDISON, a solicitor at Barker Gotelee, examines the progress being made on the electronic conveyancing of property

KERRY ADDISON, a solicitor at Barker Gotelee, examines the progress being made on the electronic conveyancing of property

OVER recent years, business practices have been transformed by advances in technology, such as the internet, e-mail and the blackberry, but the creation of the long promised “paperless office” is, for many, still far from being a reality.

Some businesses have found it easier to confine their written words (or numbers) to the screen or the ether but lawyers, particularly in property and commercial transactions, have clung to the comfort of paper documents. This is changing slowly.

One big leap forward for property lawyers is a scheme, known as e-conveyancing, currently being developed by the Land Registry as part of its long term strategy to simplify the process of buying and selling property. E-conveyancing will allow many of the stages of a conveyancing transaction to be carried out on-line and it is hoped that, once fully in place, e-conveyancing will not only do away with the need for paper transfer and mortgage deeds but also reduce the time taken to buy and sell properties and therefore the costs involved.

Progressing the e-conveyancing revolution has been slow. Its origins lie in a Law Commission report “Land Registration for the 21st Century” published in 2001. A number of changes have already been implemented which enable property lawyers to access Land Registry data and carry out searches on-line. Property owners will know that title deeds are now stored electronically and can be viewed on line by anyone through the Land Registry's website.

The next phase of the process has allowed mortgage deeds to be signed electronically on-line without the need for a paper copy to be created.

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By the end of 2010 the Land Registry plan to roll out this system of e-signatures to include the signing of Land Registry transfers. Work on developing electronic transfers is proceeding cautiously and initially the transfer will be limited to transfers on sale of the whole of one registered title by private individuals to private individuals.

One of the major concerns is that the e-conveyancing process could be abused by fraudsters and various security measures have been tested to prevent fraud. Signing a mortgage deed electronically requires the use of security questions, passwords and authentication grids, but the fear remains that sophisticated fraudsters could find a way of beating the system.

The Land Registry's ultimate aim is to allow the whole conveyancing process to be carried out on-line with property owners and lawyers having access to an electronic structure which will allow them to update and monitor progress on each step in the transaction. The realisation of this project should bring huge benefits to everyone involved in the process of buying and selling property.