Review of Land Registration (Reid and Gretton)
Kenneth GC Reid and George L Gretton
Reform of the law of land registration was the subject (object) of a Scottish Law Commission project, which produced three discussion papers and a report. The authors of this book – Professors Reid and Gretton – were (and in that order) the Scottish Law Commissioners responsible for the land registration project. The SLC project led to the Land Registration etc (Scotland) Act 2012, which was substantively commenced on 8 December 2014.
The SLC’s bill was revised at parliamentary stage. (A spare afternoon in the holidays can be spent comparing the SLC bill with the resulting Act: spot the difference, and then explain it. For example, why was the chronological narrative structure disrupted?) The preface contains the necessary disclaimer – this is not an “official” account of the legislation. But the informed reader will be well aware of the professors’ influence and standing on conveyancing matters.
As well as the usual preliminaries, the book contains a short but useful glossary of terms of art for land registration. The substance of the book covers the context, structure, and contents of the Land Register, what may be registered, how it is registered, how the register may be rectified, how the guarantee of title works, liabilities, examination of title, and electronic conveyancing. The style will be familiar to readers of the professors’ annual conveyancing updates, seamlessly combining the descriptive and the analytical to create an account which, while deep, is never heavy.
The first two chapters of the book (“Historical Introduction” and “The 1979 Act and its Reform”) take the reader from the heady days of the 16th century – wherein legislative attempts to create a register relative to land were made and failed – to the success of 1617, through the developments and modifications of the General Register of Sasines, early flirtations with and the eventual introduction of registration of title (the Land Register), and the life cycle of the 1979 Act Land Register, leaving us on the threshold of the 2012 Act revolution.
But was it a revolution? “Pumping concrete into the foundations” was the SLC headline, which speaks rather more of evolution. Indeed, in many ways there was no revolution, except that the “Midas touch” has gone, the Keeper no longer checks your homework, and her role has been rendered definitively administrative (as opposed to judicial. This matters particularly when considering rectification).
From these relative unfamiliarities, the book offers refuge. For example, chapter 11 on “Inaccuracies and their Rectification” gives an uncluttered account of the types of inaccuracy and the ways in which they may be rendered accuracies, with the helpful illumination of worked examples. The transitional provisions are included, which apply when the problem and the search for a solution straddle the commencement of the 2012 Act. The application of prescription, both positive and negative, is also set out, as is the effect of the new rules on transfer to a good-faith acquirer.
And to the non-revolutionary, but also relatively unfamiliar, there is guidance. There are chapters on advance notices, on caveats, and on the rules for prescriptive claimants (although the non-revolutionary status of this last depends on your perspective).
It may appear that much of the information in the more palpably practical parts of the book (of which its majority consists) could be gleaned from a careful reading of the legislation, together with the suite of guidance notes published by Registers of Scotland. But like any good such commentary, the book draws this (and more) together and presents it in a readily digestible form, overlaid with original commentary.
To this thoroughly practical exegesis, an added dimension is given by the occasional vignette of the landscape around the new legislation, albeit without distracting from the primary purpose. Consider, for instance, the three paragraphs and the footnotes to them on “Cadastre” at para 5.6. (Pleasingly, there is some offsetting of such language by judicious use of the vernacular: see “Clyping” at para 9.17, which is regrettably absent from the index.)
To the charge of hagiography I plead veritas.
Dr Rebecca MacLeod, Anderson Strathern LLP