Conveyancing Law And The Property Act 1925

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Conveyancing law (or land law as it's sometimes known) is the law that governs transactions involving land in England and Wales (and in other parts of the world also, but this article is restricted to the conveyancing law of England and Wales). It is a branch of the law that the majority of us are likely to come into contact with at some point in our lives so it's perhaps surprising that most know so little about it.
Conveyancing law governs anything to do with a land transaction from the formalities that a contract and a deed must adhere to, to what interests can exist in land and how and when they can or must be registered. It is of course an enormous subject and the purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of conveyancing law and the key legislation behind it.
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The Origins of Conveyancing Law

Modern conveyancing law was born in 1925, with introduction of two key acts of Parliament, the Law of Property Act 1925 and the Land Registration Act 1925. Before then, the system of conveyancing law had become confused and it was possible for two parties to have equally valid claims to the same piece of land or else the trail of how the land had passed form one party to another was often difficult to follow. Inevitably this led to numerous bitter disputes which had to be settled in the courts and Government realised something needed to be done.

Of the two new acts in 1925 which formed the foundations of conveyancing law as we know it today, only the Law of Property Act remains in force. The Land Registration Act has been repealed and replaced by the Land Registration 2002.


The Law of Property Act 1925

The Law of Property Act 1925, which remains in force today, defines the types of interests which are valid in conveyancing law. It reduced the different types of land ownership to just two - fee simple absolute in possession (freehold) and term of years absolute (leasehold).

All land is technically owned by the Crown and what a land owner has is an exclusive right to use the land. This is known as a legal estate (or a “fee”). A fee simple absolute in possession is an unconditional right to use and occupy the land to the exclusion of others in perpetuity (forever) and with no limitation on the owner as to when and to whom he may dispose of it (for example by selling or gifting it). He must also have the right to immediate possession, that is the right to immediately occupy the property or, if it is subject to a lease, to immediately collect rents and profits.

A term of years absolute is an exclusive right to use and occupy land for a fixed number of years.

The Law of Property Act also defines other interests in land such as mortgages, easements (rights) and covenants.


The Land Registration Act 1925

This particular conveyancing law, which has now been repealed and replaced by the Land Registration Act 2002, created a central registry for information on ownership and rights etc in relation to land which we now call the Land Registry. It made it compulsory for all land transactions to be registered with the Land Registry so that eventually there would be a central record of all land in England and Wales.

Compulsory registration was far from immediate. It was enforced region by region and it was not until 1998 that all parts of England and Wales were affected. The goal of the 2002 act is to further streamline conveyancing law by removing as many overriding interests (interests which do not have to be registered to bind land) as possible and also to switch from a paper to an electronic register to pave the way for e-Conveyancing.

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