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THE LAW SOCIETY.-PROVINCIAL MEETING. THE thirty sixth provincial meeting of the Law Society was held at Nottingham from Monday to Thursday. Among those present were the president, Messrs. W. J. Humfrys (Hereford), C. L. Samson (vicepresident), J. S. Beale, J. J. D. Botterell, R. S. Cleaver (Liverpool), A. H. Coley (Birmingham), Thomas Eggar (Brighton), Robert Ellett (Cirencester), Sir Edward H. Fraser, D.C.L. (Nottingham), Mr. Roger Gregory, Sir Henry Johnson, Messrs. C. E. Longmore (Hertford), J. F. Milne (Manchester), C. H. Morton (Liverpool). W. H. Norton (Manchester), A. C. Peake (Leeds), R. A. Pinsent (Birmingham), R. Pybus (Newcastle-on-Tyne), Sir Albert K. Rollit, LL.D., and Messrs. R. M. Welsford (members of the council), and S. P. Bucknill (secretary) and E. R. Cook (assistant secretary).
WELCOME TO THE CITY.
Sir EDWARD FRASER, the mayor, president of the Nottingham Incorporated Law Society. welcomed the members attending the meeting at the University College, Shakespeare-street. He observed that some of those present would remember the last visit of the society to the city twenty-one years ago, and they would be pleased to see that many who were at that meeting were also with them on this occasion. They would have on the platform the newly elected president of the Law Society, Mr. Hamfrys, to whom as a country solicitor they offered their most profound and hearty congratulations; and they would also see Mr. Williamson, who was for so many years one of the corner-stones of the successful working of the society. They would miss others, and, in particular, his friend Mr. Henry Wing, the then president of the Nottingham Society, than whom a more honourable and upright solicitor never practised in this country. PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS.
The PRESIDENT then took the chair and delivered his address as follows:
Twenty-one years have elapsed since the previous visit of this society to Nottingham, and those of us who were present on that occasion have very lively recollections of the kindly welcome that was accorded to us and of the lavish hospitality that was shown to us. Looking back it is difficult to realise the lapse of time, but of the members of the council in that year only five remain. Most of the others have joined the majority, though one or two_are still enjoying in this world the rest they have so well earned. Two eminent members of the Profession who were serving on the council in 1890 have been taken from us during the last year-Viscount Wolverhampton, better known as Sir Henry Fowler, and Mr. Henry Manisty. They had previously retired from the council, but it will not be out of place once more to record our sense of the great obligations the society and the Profession are under to them both, to Lord Wolverhampton more especially for his advice and assistance in connection with the various measures of legislation which the society promoted and opposed, while, as regards Mr. Manisty, members who have followed our proceedings will remember the very arduous work which he so admirably performed in the year of his presidency, as well as the great services he rendered during his long term of office. Time will not permit me even to refer to the changes that since our last meeting at Nottingham have taken place in the law. Of these one of the most important was effected by the Criminal Evidence Act passed in 1898, which enabled persons charged with offences to give evidence, and which was followed in 1907 by the Act establishing a Court of Criminal Appeal. The Workmen's Compensation Act, the Agricultural Holdings Act, and, above all, the Finance Act 1910, have introduced changes in our law of a far-reaching character, and some valuable reforms have been brought about by such measures as the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act 1891, the Trustee Act 1893, the Trade Marks Act 1905, and several others, and, most important and valuable of all, by the first part of the Land Transfer Act of 1897, which establishes a real representative on whom real estate devolves on the death of its owner in the same way as personalty. Probably, however, the legislation and attempted legislation that has most troubled the Profession during the last quarter of a century has been that which has established in London a system of compulsory registration of title to real estate, a system which would have been extended to the whole of England and Wales if the authorities could have had their way. Speaking in the House of Lords about two months ago, the Lord Chancellor thought fit to say that the present position of the law in England as regards the title to landed property and the methods of transferring it, except where there existed registration of title in the county of London, was little short of a scandal, and that it was almost unique for its futility and costliness, and he proceeded to suggest that the solicitors' costs and charges out of pocket for these transfers of landed property amounted to four millions sterling a year, whereas the Government stamps on dealings in land only amounted to one million, and he spoke of these charges operating as a clog on landed property, of the dangers under the present system from the loss of deeds and the like; and he added that the cause for this state of things was the enormous strength of the vested interests concerned in the maintenance of the present system and the aversion to the learning of a new system, the dislike of innovation which were fortunately or unfortunately characteristic of the Legal Profession. And he proceeded to say that from the date of the passing of the Land Transfer Act in 1897 the most strenuous resistance had been offered to it by the majority of the
Legal Profession, principally supported by the Law Society. The council of this society has published a protest against the assertions and suggestions embodied in the Lord Chancellor's speech, and I think I cannot do better than reproduce that protest here. It runs as follows: "The council, having had under consideration the recent debate in the House of Lords, records its protest against the misconception to which the Lord Chancellor gave expression of the attitude of the Law Society towards the Land Transfer Act of 1897, under which compulsory registration has been established in London. The council as representing the Law Society in discharge of its duty to the Profession, and in the true interests, as it is believed, of the public, has assisted in directing attention to the defects of the existing system of compulsory registration, defects which solicitors have the best means of observing and rightly appreciating. The council has also given publicity to its opinion that any extension of this defective system would be prejudicial to landowners and the public. This attitude on the part of the society has been fully justified by the report of the Royal Commission, and the council expresses its regret that the Lord Chancellor not only refrained from referring to this result of the Royal Commission, but used language calculated to create the erroneous impression (1) that the non-success of the system is attributable to the action of the Profession, and (2) that the commission had approved the system subject to unimportant amendments. The council has always contended that the proper way of dealing with the question of land transfer is first to amend and simplify the law of real property, so as to remove the difficulties which must beset any system of registration under existing conditions. To such reform the council has already largely contributed, and hopes further to contribute as soon as the state of business in Parliament admits." I hope this meeting will indorse this protest, and I think I cannot usefully add to it; but having regard to the statements by the Lord Chancellor, which were adopted and in part reiterated by Lord Halsbury, it may not be out of place to remind this meeting of the history of the law as it affects conveyancing during the last seventy years, and in passing I may be permitted to call attention to the evidence recently given before the Royal Commission. I am thinking particularly of that given by Mr. Beale, which shows that under the registry system losses of documents are certainly not unknown, and mistakes are no more uncommon than they are under the system still prevailing outside London. As to the charges which are said to operate as a clog on landed property, the evidence given by different witnesses, among others by Mr. Pearson, should satisfy any impartial critic that, whatever may have been the cost in bygone days, the expense is now no greater under the old system than under the new, and the statement that the charges of solicitors amounted to four millions sterling is one for which no authority is given, but as it is expressly stated to include payments out of pocket it may possibly be made up of payments for advertising, auctioneers' charges, and the like; unless this is the explanation, the statement must, I feel confident, be erroneous. That the condition of the law that regulated dealings with land and the evidence of its ownership was, less than a century ago, one that called for extensive reform has long been admitted on all hands, and such reform was inaugurated in 1833 by the legislation which made that year so famous in the annals of real property jurisprudence. The Fines and Recoveries and the Inheritance Acts, the Prescription and Real Property Limitation Acts, and the Dower Act were among the first of the measures that have gradually transformed the land laws from a condition that might have merited the Lord Chancellor's criticism to one of comparative simplicity capable of being moulded into one of the most convenient and economic systems of land transfer in the world. The reformers of the past generation, who were masters of the law applicable to real property, realised that the mode of facilitating and cheapening dealings with land lay in the simplification of the law itself, and in the removal, as far as possible, of its technicalities, and of the principles and rules that had become obsolete. They recognised, moreover, that in order to build up on the foundation of the old feudal doctrines a system that would be capable on the one hand of assimilating old customs and traditions, and on the other of adapting itself to the ever-changing requirements of a progressive civilisation such as our own, it would be necessary to proceed with caution and patience, and that to stereotype all the intricacies of the English system, with its estates and its limitations, its charges, and other provisions, taking effect, some directly, some only in equity, was a course that could only lead to expense and confusion. It was in order to carry into effect the policy of simplifying the law that the measures to which all conveyancers owe so much have been enacted, and are bearing fruit. The Wills Act of 1837, the Real Property and Satisfied Terms Acts, both passed in 1845, the Acts passed in 1859 and 1860, and commonly referred to by the names of their authors, Lord St. Leonards and Lord Cranworth, and many others, crowned, if I may use the expression, by the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act 1881, together with the Settled Land Act of the following year, and the various amending Acts, may said to have revolutionised the old system of conveyancing. It is well known that this society actively supported these measures, and have been for some time promoting further legislation on the lines of them; and, indeed, an amending Act promoted by the society has, in the present session, passed the House of Lords, and it is hoped that it will become law in the course of the present year. Some half century ago, however, another idea took possession of law reformers, and they conceived the idea of simplifying the transfer of land by the establishment of a register, upon which landed estates were to be entered with an indefeasible
title guaranteed by the State, and in 1862 a measure was carried through Parliament at the instance of Lord Westbury, which was announced as one that would ultimately make dealings with land as simple as those with stocks and shares, and a great effort was made to induce landowners to register their estates. We all know how complete was the failure of that legislation, and this not because the owners of real estate were averse to such a scheme or at all enamoured with the conveyancing of that day, but the experience of persons who put their titles on the register was such as to deter their friends and acquaintances from following their example; and, indeed, most of those who had at considerable expense obtained a registered indefeasible title were soon anxious to undo all that had been done and to go back to the old state of affairs. Then came Lord Cairns' Act of 1875, which necessitated a new independent register of title, but which met with no greater success than the previous measure, and remained, like the former Act, almost a dead letter. Mr. Osborne Morgan's Committee was appointed in 1878 to inquire into the working of the Act, and reported in 1879 that they were informed on the authority of Mr. Holt and Mr. Follett, the officials, that no system of registration can be devised which will be voluntarily adopted," and they were told by the Lord Chancellor (Lord Cairns) that he had not yet seen any way in which the registration of titles could be made compulsory, and they quoted from the Royal Commission of 1868 as an axiom that for an institution to flourish in a free country it must offer to the people the thing that they want. They expressed a hope that the time might come when by the help of amendments in the laws relating to land and the simplification of titles which such amendments might bring--the benefits of a registration of titles might be more generally appreciated, and added that "if the law either recognised nothing but estates in fee simple or gave to the holder of land the same power of disposition as the holder of stock now enjoys, the registration of titles would be as easy as the title itself would be simple." They added that such changes would be opposed to the general feeling of the country, and that to legislate for the registration of titles without as a preliminary step simplifying the titles to be registered was to begin at the wrong end. This view approved itself to Lord Cairns, and the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act 1881, passed into law under his auspices and with the hearty support of this society, was the result. A few years, however, after the Act had become law, and before sufficient time had elapsed for its advantages to be fully appreciated, Lord Halsbury conceived the idea of making registration of titles compulsory, and introduced into the House of Lords a Bill to empower the Privy Council to apply compulsory registration of titles to any district they thought fit, a Bill which, though it passed the Lords, was not proceeded with in the Commons; but from that date till the year 1897 our branch of the Profession were engaged in a laborious and difficult struggle, quite as much in the interest of the landowners as of ourselves, to defeat the compulsory clauses of the Bill which Lord Herschell, who succeeded Lord Halsbury as Lord Chancellor, adopted as his own. That struggle was ended, as everybody knows, by a compromise under which the Crown was authorised by Order in Council to introduce compulsory registration into any one county with a proviso that the compulsion should not be extended to any other county unless its county council by a two-thirds majority should request the application of compulsion. The county of London was selected for the first experiment, and, as we all know, the efforts of the authorities have been unable to induce any other county council to apply for the extension of the Act to its county. The result of the experiment in the county of London has been disastrous to everybody interested in the transfer of land except the officials. The Lord Chancellor himself in his speech in the House of Lords, to which I have already called attention, stated that he had received from some of the borough councils of London resolutions condemning the existence of the system of registration of title in London and asking that it should be undone. They are not the only bodies who have condemned it. The Common Council of London has expressed its disapproval, and land and building societies and similar bodies have also expressed their dislike to it; while the new rules of 1908, exacting higher fees on the first registration and on the subsequent transfers of the more valuable properties, are spoken of by the commissioners whose report has been published this year as having given rise to a very legitimate grievance. At last in 1908, in response to a request made by this society and other interested bodies, a Royal Commission appointed, not, as we desired, to consider the whole question of land transfer and the relative advantages of the systems established by the Land Transfer Acts as compared with former methods, but merely to report upon the working of the Acts and whether any amendments are desirable. As a consequence the report is in many respects incomplete, since the terms of the reference did not empower the commissioners to recommend the abolition of the compulsory system in London. They state, however (par. 56), that up to the present time the effect of compulsory registration with a possessory title in London has been to place a purchaser under a disadvantage as compared with a purchaser elsewhere, and they add that the system, as it stands, is, in our judgment, imperfect, and we cannot recommend the compulsory extension of an imperfect system. We think it should first be amended in the manner that we have proposed, and that if after sufficient experience the amended system is found to work satisfactorily within the present compulsory area of the county of London a Bill for the gradual extension of compulsion on, sales to the rest of the kingdom by the establishment of local centres and branches in the manner suggested by the registrar should then be considered Fourth Sheet
by Parliament." It should not be forgotten that our branch of the Profession was represented on the commission by only one solicitor. Country practitioners, whose knowledge of the subject and acquaintance with the needs of country districts is very extensive, were wholly unrepresented, and it was probably owing to this circumstance that the report sets out a scheme suggested by the registrar than which I can conceive none more calculated to lead to confusion, and, indeed, disaster, even if it be determined to force a system of compulsory registration upon an unwilling community. This scheme for extending compulsion to the provinces is contained in par. 95 of the report, and is as follows: "The registrar referred us to sect. 118 of the Act of 1875, which empowered the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury to create district registries, and appoint district registrars, assistant registrars, and the necessary staff for each, and proposed that this principle should be carried out by the establishment of a comparatively small number of local centres throughout the country, each having a large number of branches. The local centres would contain the registers and records, and in each would be a staff of highly trained men. The branch offices could be established wherever there was a registry of a County Court, so as to be within ten or fifteen miles of every landowner, they would be largely worked by men having other official or professional employment, and would give general information, take in all applications, see that they were prima facie correct, and send them immediately to the local centre to be fully dealt with there. It was suggested that, if necessary, the district registrar might travel on circuit within his district; and that communication might be so facilitated by the telephone that there need be no greater delay in dealing with applications in any country district than there is now in dealing with London applications at the head office. The registrar estimated that the cost of such an establishment would be from £300,000 to £400,000 a year, and suggested that the cheapest, quickest, and best way to bring registration of titles completely into effect would be to compel the registration of title to all land at once, district by district, without any charge to the landowner for fees, and apart from any transactions of sale, land registered with a possessory title to ripen into an absolute title in five years." Well may the commissioners say, "Whatever the advantages of such a proposal, we find that the alarm which it would cause to landowners generally and the cost which, as a rule, would be imposed on them by the employment of solicitors to prove their titles are objections to it which could only be overborne by a really strong public feeling in favour of the compulsory registration of title, and we have been unable to find proof of the existence of any such feeling in the country"; and then they continue in the words already quoted to find that the system, as it stands, is imperfect, and that they cannot recommend the compulsory extension of an imperfect system. Surely the criticism of the council of this society upon this scheme of the registrar was fully justified when as long back as Nov. 1907 they wrote that such a system would involve a network of officialism throughout the country which would, it is believed, be intolerable to English habits and feelings. In every small town, in every ten and twenty-mile circle, a highly-paid official must be established, with clerks and book-keepers in constant communication with the central registry. Generally the local official would be a lawyer. He and his staff would necessarily become acquainted with every local transaction, even of the most private character. It may safely be assumed that people would universally object to such a system, and would much prefer the cheaper and simpler method of private deeds." The suggestion that the registrar might travel on circuit, and that business might be transacted by telephone, has really too much the air of comic opera to be seriously criticised. It reads like an extract from one of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's works. Sir Charles Brickdale, with whom the idea originated, had evidently in his mind a plan for transferring all the conveyancing business of the kingdom, which has been for centuries intrusted to our profession, to officials established in every market town., At the cost of £300,000 or £400,000 per annum, an estimate less than one-fifth of that which has been made in other quarters, and which would doubtless be in some way thrown on the landowners, he would establish a network of officials throughout the land, and a system which I venture to assert would soon prove unworkable, but which might have the effect of rendering the position of solicitors almost impossible, and when it came to an end-as it most certainly would-would leave an indescribable state of confusion behind. It would seem to be based on an idea that dealings with land are of small allotments lying together in some particular district, and that each transaction would concern only some person resident in the district. Such a state of affairs is entirely opposed to fact. Estates of every magnitude both large and small are frequently sold by landowners resident at a distance represented by solicitors also entirely unconnected with the locality, while the purchasers and their solicitors are also very often strangers to the neighbourhood. Sometimes a single sale may be of a property lying in several districts, while, as regards settlements, mortgages, and similar dealings, properties scattered in different counties might well form the subject of a single transaction. The registrar in his evidence suggests that any new Act should declare deeds off the register to be unnecessary and improper except in cases where they contain matter that could not be inserted in a registered instrument, and he, I suppose, is to decide whether their contents could or could not be so inserted. Even at present we hear from the witnesses who gave evidence before the recent commission of the difficulties and irritation occasioned hy the registrar assuming an authority as to the form of the deeds
to be admitted on the register, not in pursuance of any power
would be entered on the register would be a simple instrument like the present transfer of registered stock, whereby in consideration of a specified sum the registered owner or owners would convey to the transferee the land referred to in a schedule and map annexed. The duty of the registrar would be simply ministerial, to see that the land described in the transfer was identical with or formed part of that comprised in the certificate which would accompany the transfer, and to satisfy himself that no caution was entered against it. He would have to see that the transfer was duly stamped, and would issue a new certificate to the purchaser. If the property is registered in more than one name, the owners should take as joint tenants. In fact, the duties of the registrar would be very similar to those of the registrar of a railway company at present. As regards settled estates, the form of settlement should be that now in use in settlements of personalty; the land should be vested in trustees; the limitations, as well as charges, such as jointures or portions, taking the form of trusts. I do not see that this need in any shape interfere with the position or powers of the tenant for life. Settlements of real estate are now frequently effected by means of a trust for conversion, the property being conveyed to trustees upon trust for sale, any actual sale being postponed until desired by the tenant for life, and in the meantime he is left in possession and receipt of the rents, and the management of the property is entirely left to him, so that his position is in effect, both in appearance and in fact, the same as if he had the legal estate, and under the proposed scheme the relative positions of the tenant for life and the trustees would he practically identical with those of the tenant for life and the settled land trustees under the present law. Powers of leasing might be vested in the tenant for life, and the interest of the lessee be (when deemed necessary) protected by a caution. In the case of mortgages, the deed embodying the terms of the loan would be kept off the register, the land being simply conveyed to the mortgagee, just as in mortgages of stock at present the mortgagee is registered as owner of the stock. Such a register might be of a comparatively simple character, as it would merely record transfers of the entire interest in each particular property. The conveyance might be a statutory form similar to the present common form of transfers of stocks and shares, and the description of the property might be taken from the Ordnance Survey, for easements, restrictive covenants, and similar burdens should not be entered on the register, nor should limited interests, as estates for life or in reniainder, trusts, or charges of any kind; in fact, except as concerns the description of the property, the register should be similar to a register of the stocks of a railway or other joint stock company. Beneficial interests of every kind (not being the entire interest in the property), whether limited interests in the land itself or charges upon it, would be protected as such interests in stock and shares are at present by a caution or distringas, and the effect of such caution should be precisely similar to that of the familiar distringas on stocks, and entitle the person on whose behalf it had been obtained to notice before the land is dealt with. The essence of the arrangement would be that after a certain length of notice the distringas or caution would be automatically discharged, as in the case of distringas on stocks, no formal consent being required to remove it. The question will then arise in what way are purchasers of property to have notice of any liabilities to which it may be subject, such as rights of way, water, or light, or other easements, or restrictions on the use of the land, such as covenants in conveyances of building estates regulating the character of the buildings, and the uses to which they may be put, and similar matters. I would suggest that these be kept altogether off the register, and be protected by some kind of notice. It would only be to rights or Restrictions arising under some written instrument that the difficulty would arise. Few estates are not subject to rights of way; footpaths and bridle roads cross lands in various directions, and windows overlooking neighbouring houses in a few years confer on the owners rights of light. Nothing of this sort appears in any written document. The rights depend entirely on usage and prescription, and need no other record. But as regards rights of every sort, taking their origin in grant or covenant, I would provide that they should be evidenced by deed or by instrument kept off the register, that notice of such deed should be entered in the margin of the register, and copied in the margin of the certificate, and that every such deed should be enrolled in the way that disentailing deeds are, and have been since the passing of the Fines and Recoveries Act, and that the reference in the register and certificate should be to the roll, where the deed in question may be found, and that no easements, rights of way, restrictive covenants, or the like, depending on a written document, shall affect land in the hands of a bona fide purchaser for value unless the deed creating such easement or restriction has been duly enrolled. To place all titles on the register must be a more or less lengthy business. Under the present law registration only becomes compulsory in London on the first sale of real estate within the area of compulsion, and I would suggest that a similar plan should be followed if compulsion be extended to the provinces. On the death of any landowner his personal representatives might be registered as owners. The payment of death duties will necessitate the preparation of an accurate description of every testator's realty, and to register his executors as owners in the same way as they would be registered as the owners of his stocks and shares would be a comparatively simple matter. Similarly a purchaser might be required to put himself on the register, and provision might be made for enabling any landowner to register if he wished. But I hope the registration would be made perfectly
simple and that no attempt will be made to compel registration either with an absolute or any other description of title. It is notorious how little value is attached to an absolute title, and, indeed, for how short a time it remains absolute. An idea appears to obsess many of the experts who approach the subject that an absolute title is an essential part of any complete scheme of reform. They forget that land changes hands but occasionally, that undisturbed possession for twelve years may be said in general terms to confer a title good against all the world, so that, consequently, although it might be necessary to investigate titles for a few years after the first registration, the title once registered would in twelve years ripen into what would be in effect an absolute one; indeed, the commissioners in their report refer to the registrar's suggestion that a possessory title may ripen into an absolute one in five years. Very short titles are now readily accepted, and difficulties on titles seldom arise out of ancient deeds or matters of ancient date; but, on the other hand, trouble is chiefly experienced in connection with documents executed at a later date than that on which the title would have been registered as absolute. A testator may die, the owner of an estate registered with an absolute title, and, owing possibly to the terms of his will, to some informal family arrangement or to some other dealing with the property, his representatives may find themselves faced with very serious difficulty affecting the property and arising out of legal technicalities. So long as the register attempts to record any interest in the land other than what according to the present terminology would be called the unincumbered fee simple, or in the language that would then be used the absolute and entire ownership, difficulties of various sorts will constantly arise. Moreover, any attempt to deal with interests in the nature of incorporeal hereditaments on the register must lead to endless confusion. What is the use of an absolute title to a building estate where every plot is held subject to the restrictions and covenants in a deed merely referred to in the certificate, and which has to be carefully read and considered before its effect can be determined, to say nothing of the expense and difficulty sometimes experienced in getting access to such a deed? If the owner of the entire interest in the land is registered and no purchaser for value can be affected by any subsequent unregistered dealing with it, investigation of titles would soon become a thing of the past. Registration on such lines as I have suggested would be simple, and the duties of the registrar little more than ministerial, and any registries in the provinces would be needless. It should be part of the scheme that the existing registry should be utilised, and it would be equal to the transaction of the business of the whole of England, provision being made for the transmission of documents by post. The foregoing is, I need hardly say, the very vaguest outline of a possible scheme if the extension of compulsion is, as I believe to be the case, determined on. It might be necessary to have a second register for long leaseholds, and some special provisions might have to be made in respect to minerals, though I am inclined to fancy even this might be avoided. The idea is very largely taken from the Bills prepared by Mr. Cyprian Williams and Mr. Sweet, and I would refer members of the society interested in the subject to those Bills and to an article by Mr. Sweet on the Land Transfer Acts which appeared in the Law Quarterly Review for Jan. 1908, and has since been reprinted. Mr. Sweet's Bill enables a cautioner on receiving notice of any intended disposition to apply to the court for an inhibition, and also enacts that the caution shall be either signed or witnessed by a solicitor, but I venture to think that the scheme suggested above will prove more complete in practice in consequence of the provision for notice to every purchaser of all easements and restrictions affecting the registered land without the register being incumbered by any description of them. The essentials of the whole arrangement are: (1) The register to refer to nothing but the entire interest in the property. (2) Distringas or cautions to end after a certain length of notice has been given unless an inhibition is obtained. (3) One register to be established for the whole country, residents in the provinces, both principals and solicitors, to have an option to forward documents, whether conveyances to be registered, cautions, deeds for enrolment, or any others by post. (4) The idea of an absolute or indefeasible title to be abandoned, and that the land registered should be that comprised in the conveyance on a purchase or in the accounts for estate duty on the death of a landowner. It need hardly be said that, so far as the beneficial interests in land are concerned, there would be no real change, and the alteration in the law would be merely technical. Estates would be settled in the same way as at present, and if it be desired to retain a mode of settlement identical with the present entail it might be possible so to provide, but I believe it would be found convenient to abolish estates tail altogether. Again, the law of primogeniture might continue as at present, though I may remark in passing that hardly any reform would do so much to simplify the law of property as one which would remove for all purposes the distinction now practically obsolete between real and personal property. All these interests, however, would be provided for in the way in which similar interests in stocks and shares are at present, and would not affect the land itself. For many years personalty has been settled in this manner, it being possible by means of trusts to create in personalty the same limited interests and charges as can be created in land with the single exception of an estate tail. It has, of course, been impossible in a paper such as this to criticise in any detail the findings or recommendations of the commission. The task I set myself was to point out from a country solicitor's point of view how great would be the calamity if any such scheme as that which has been so persistently urged by the registrar were adopted. The owners of, and dealers in, land would
be the chief sufferers, and we should be injured though in a smaller degree, for our interests are bound up with those of our clients. But that some system of compulsion will, before long, be forced on the provinces is, I fear, too clear. If there were no other reason, the existence of a register seems almost essential to the success of the scheme for the taxation of land values embodied in the last Finance Act. When by means of the inquiries and returns the authorities are so diligently obtaining, the new Doomsday has been completed, and the Land Values Department has obtained its record of the owners of land, it will certainly insist on some system of registration of changes of ownership to enable that record to be kept up to date. That some such idea has already been formed is, I think, obvious from the remark on page 48 of the report that, As the valuation of land in England under the Finance Act is only just commencing, it has not been possible for us (the commissioners) to examine this part of our subject to the extent which would be necessary before we could make any recommendation as to the manner in which the registration of title to land here might be connected with its valuation for the purposes of taxation, but that such a connection is possible and that, assuming both registration and valuation to be continued, it would be of much advantage in cheapening and facilitating both first registration and subsequent dealings may fairly be deduced from the results of its establishment in Germany and Austria-Hungary.' It must not be forgotten that the Lord Chancellor, who can have no personal acquaintance with conveyancing from a practical point of view, especially in country districts, seems to adopt almost unreservedly the suggestions of the registrar rather than the recommendations of the commission. The speech in the House of Lords shows this, and I have heard it hinted that a simple plan for effecting what Sir Charles Brickdale so greatly desires would be to pass a short Act repealing sub-sects. 7, 8, and 9 of sect. 20 of the Act of 1897 (the section which in effect imposes on county councils the responsibility for the adoption of the Act), and then to extend the compulsory area and establish district registries by Order in Council under the powers conferred by the Act of 1875. I cannot believe, however, that if a definite scheme far simpler than any yet suggested, and one which would really realise the long-cherished idea of making land as easy of transfer as stocks and shares could be brought to the notice of the Lord Chancellor, he would ignore the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and the evidence of the solicitors, to which might be added the opinion of great experts such as Mr. Sweet, in order to establish at vast cost a huge bureaucracy throughout the kingdom over which Sir Charles Brickdale would preside, but which would, I am satisfied, be so repugnant to the habits and feelings of the people that it would be but short lived, and when it came to an end would leave a sad legacy of difficulty and trouble behind. Any such system as I have suggested was impossible until the law as regards the transmission of realty had been so amended as to vest it like personalty on the death of its owner in his personal representatives, and even now to carry it into effect a further simplification of the land laws on the lines embodied in Mr. Cyprian Williams' Bill is requisite. It is only because I believe that the success of our opposition to some such scheme as the registrar desires depends on our being able to suggest some alternative and simpler one that I have introduced to your notice a method of registration which is largely that of Mr. Sweet. If adopted, while affording a prospect of that finality which Lord Halsbury has contended is so essential, it would leave to our profession the preparation of all legal documents as heretofore, and we may surely hope that some reasonable provision will be made for our proper remuneration. The Times leader on the Land Transfer Report closed with these words, Not a few of the criticisms [of those who have hitherto opposed land transfer] are approved by the commission, and their demand for investigation is thus justified. It behoves them now to quit a position of unconditional hostility and to help, as no others can, in the improvement of the system. It has come to stay. It rests with its opponents to say if it is to be purged of its serious blemishes.' I believe these words deserve consideration, but it is for you and for the society to accept or reject the suggestions embodied in this paper. In endeavouring to illustrate a recent remark in the Times that "there is no reason to think that they [the solicitors] love darkness or cling with tenacity to old-world ways more than any other profession; probably they do so less than most," I am only following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. We know that our interests and those of our clients are identical, and it is because we are satisfied that such a scheme as that of Sir Charles Brickdale, with the huge bureaucracy to which he desires to subject everyone interested in English land, would prove an intolerable expense and burden to the whole country that we are so strenuously opposing it. I have endeavoured to point out a method by which registration of title may, as I would urge, be rendered far simpler, more economical, and less irritating than any scheme that has yet been proposed, if, indeed, it be the fact, as the Times contends, that the system of compulsion has come to stay. You must consider and decide if it provides a basis for some arrangement which will satisfy the requirements of the officials without placing too heavy a burden on the landowner; but at all events, I, and I only, am responsible for the suggestions, so if you reject them and blame me for having even hinted that any compromise is possible which recognises compulsory registration in any form, it is not the council of the society you will censure. The real point at issue is one of procedure. We are all at one in deprecating compulsion, and I fully agree that before any method of combating the legislation with which we are threatened can be adopted most careful consideration and discussion must be given to it. If you or
the society in general meeting decide that the scheme I have laid before you is one with which they will have nothing to do, I shall loyally accept their decision and do all I can to give effect to it.
I have already kept you far too long, and I have not touched on many of the subjects that are usually dealt with in the presidential address at our country meeting. You will find most of them mentioned in the report of the council, but I have hoped that, having regard to the importance of Land Transfer to the Profession, I may be forgiven for having_devoted such a lengthy address to that one matter. I am aware I have only touched the fringe of a great question; criticism I shall welcome; for adverse criticism I am quite prepared, but I would ask you to believe that in all I have written I have had but one end in view, the benefit of the profession to which I am so deeply indebted, and to the practice of which I have devoted my life.
Mr. J. H. GREEN (town clerk, Nottingham) moved a vote of thanks to the president. He said the address was masterly and dignified and the fruit of long and honourable experience and of careful thought, with a desire to help the society and the public.
Mr. C. E. LONGMORE (Hereford) as a country member of the council seconded the motion. He referred to the position which had been taken by those who were known as the "last-ditchers," and asserted that the able and statesmanlike lead which had been given by the president was a much wiser position to take, and that it was much more likely to be for the benefit of the public and of the Profession than if they were to carry their resistance to the bitter end. There was a time when the feeling of landlords against registration was so strong that the society might have hoped to successfully divide the House of Lords against the system even with the leaders of both parties against them, but if they were now to endeavour to resist the principle of registration, he doubted if they could make a decent fight. The way of settlement he had pointed out was likely to be as advantageous to the nation as it was to be for the good of the Profession. No doubt what Sir Charles Brickdale desired was to establish for himself the position of sole arbitrator throughout the country in all questions relating to land, and to attract to his registry the settlement of all such questions. The Profession knew that the complications which arose in connection with conveyancing were 88 nothing compared with those which had recently been put upon land by Parliament in connection with the duties they had imposed. The president had proposed that the system which had for so many centuries been in force in connection with the transfer of stocks and shares, and so on, should be adopted, and that all matters connected with the transfer of land should remain to be settled in their own localities by solicitors acting on behalf of their clients, as had been the case for so many centuries.
The motion having been carried with acclamation,
The PRESIDENT, in returning thanks, said that it was with some hesitation and after considerable thought that he had decided to bring the subject before the meeting. It seemed to him that it would be an absolutely fatal policy to do nothing and to have no programme at all. He thought he was quite justified in saying publicly that the Lord Chancellor had himself remarked to him upon one occasion when he (the president) had had the opportunity of speaking to him about the matter that one thing was certain, namely, that something must be done; and he rather gathered-he did not think the Lord Chancellor would at all mind him saying this—that he was open to suggestion and to advice as to what should be done, and it seemed to him (the president) quite clear that Lord Loreburn was convinced that the Government would insist in some way in knowing who were the owners of every bit of land in the country as far as it was possible to know it. He (the president) had taken a good deal of care in hunting up the matter, and he thought that the only way in which it could be hoped that some of the administrative proposals engineered by Sir Charles Brickdale could be resisted would be by some simple scheme such as he had set forth; because it was very well known that none of the great advocates of registration of land in Parliament knew anything at all about land law. He supposed that Lord Loreburn would himself admit that he had very little knowledge of the subject, and consequently all that could be done was for them to get advice wherever they could. Hitherto they had received very little advice beyond that given them by Sir Charles Brickdale.
NEXT PROVINCIAL MEETING.
Mr. A. C. MACINTOSH (president of the Cardiff and District Law Society) invited the society to hold next year's meeting at Cardiff. The PRESIDENT said he would submit the invitation to the council.
Mr. J. S. RUBINSTEIN (London) read his paper in a condensed form, leaving out the less important parts. [We shall print the paper in due course.]
He then moved the following resolutions :
(1) That with regard to the report of the Land Transfer Commission issued in February last, and the discussion thereon in the House of Lords on the 19th July, this meeting desires to place the following views on record: (a) That the system of transfer of land by deed as finally settled by Lord Cairns' Acts of 1881 secures simplicity, security, and cheapness, and that the application in the recent discussion of the term scandal' to that system is wholly without justification; (b) that the alternative system of transfer by registration which has been available in this country, as a voluntary
system, since 1862 has been from the first and continues to be complicated, unsafe, and expensive, notwithstanding the numerous alterations that have been made in it from time to time; (c) that. having regard to the findings of the commission that the effect of compulsory registration of title in London has been to place a purchaser there at a disadvantage as compared with a purchaser elsewhere' and that the system is imperfect,' the Privy Council should ia simple justice forth with rescind the order applying compulsion in London and so bring to an end an experiment which during the last twelve years has seriously embarrassed property dealings in London and burdened owners to the extent of £50,000 per annum for the upkeep of the registry office; (d) that the statement made by Lord Cairns in 1879 that the establishment of local registries of titles was an enormous thing in this country and frightful to contemplate' accurately applies to the position to-day, and that any measure that may be introduced with the view to taking away from the county councils the right they at present possess of vetoing the establishment in their counties of local registries of titles must be strenuously resisted; (e) that the fact that the Land Registry Office although it has been in existence sixty years has never succeeded in securing the confidence of property owners and is to-day more distrusted than ever proves that it has failed to justify its existence and that the time has come for abolishing the office." (2) "That this meeting recommends the council to send copies of the foregoing resolution to the Lord Chancellor, the Privy Council, and to the London and country county councils respectively, and to take such other steps as the council may consider expedient in order that effect may be given thereto."
Mr. J. W. F. JACQUES (Bristol) seconded the motion.
Mr. R. ELLETT (Cirencester) observed that new light had been thrown on the subject, not only by the report of the Royal Commission, and by the president's able and statesmanlike address, but also by Mr. Rubinstein's able paper, which he had had the opportunity of reading in full and which contained most admirable information on the whole question. The matter with its many details deserved fuller consideration than it was possible to give it at this meeting. The council had, as the society was aware, prepared two Bills, one of which had been largely discussed in the president's address, which had been submitted to the Royal Commission, and he would commend to their attention what the Royal Commission had said with reference to the matter, because of the very pregnant and valuable observations that were made. The council had some weeks since intimated to the provincial law societies that they desired a conference with them as to the present position of the question and as to the proper course to be taken, especially as to the question of proceeding at once with the presentation of the Bills, or one of them, to Parliament. The invitation had been sent out shortly before the Long Vacation, and there had therefore been no opportunity for the provincial eocieties to give the subject the necessary consideration. He thought that the wiser course would be for the meeting not to express an actual opinion upon the proposals which had been made at this meeting. Mr. Rubinstein proposed the adoption of a universal system of registration of deeds, but a great deal of evidence had been given before the Royal Commission on that question, and it was quite clear that a number of the provincial law societies favoured very strongly the idea of registering deeds. The Royal Commission had so far adopted that suggestion as to intimate in their report that the county councils should be empowered to establish registries of deeds. That was a very important question, and it was impossible for the meeting to express an opinion with regard to it. He suggested that the proposals of the president and Mr. Rubinstein should be referred to the council for consideration in conjunction with the provincial law societies, by which means it would certainly be possible to ascertain the views of the Profession generally much more adequately than was possible at this meeting. concluded by moving: "That the president's suggestions on the subject of land transfer and Mr. Rubinstein's paper and motion be referred to the council on the understanding that they will consider them with the provincial law societies at a conference to be called after the Long Vacation."
Mr. F. MARSHALL (Newcastle-on-Tyne), in seconding the motion, said he agreed that the meeting was not the most desirable place for the discussion, especially in view of the arrangements which had been made with the provincial societies. The Royal Commission had said that there was no body of public opinion in favour of registration of title; but it was not desirable that it should go forth that the Society accepted the view set out in the president's paper that any form of registration was inevitable. The provinces protested strongly against the motion that registration, whatever it was to be, was to be in London at all. If it was to be, they should be assured that there should be local registration. He strongly objected to the whole matter being carried on in London.
Mr. RUBINSTEIN said he did not object to the motion; but he was anxious that the ordinary practitioner should have the oportunity of saying a word. He thought that the present dilemma was owing somewhat to the weakness of the council, and that if they had shown a bolder front the meeting would not now be discussing whether this officialism was to be submitted to all over the kingdom. All he wanted was an assurance that the general body of the Profession should have the opportunity of having their views heard. Mr. C. H. MORTON (Liverpool), as secretary of the Associated Provincial Law Societies, said that he could conceive no greater calamity for the provinces than that the system which prevailed in London should be applied to them. If the council conferred with the provincial societies, every endeavour would be made to