08 April 2020
Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020: Registers of Scotland Update. One third of the world’s population is under lockdown in one shape or form, the daily bombardment of grim statistics keeps coming, the Prime Minister is in intensive care, much of the economy is on a stuttering hold with fallers even before the ‘off’ on the other side of lockdown and yet, in property practice at least, at the end of the tunnel there is perhaps the faintest glimmer of the light of a ‘new normal’.
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act came into force yesterday (7 April 2020) modernising land registration processes in Scotland designed to facilitate ongoing property transactions during the lockdown.
Hands were no doubt thrown high across the legal profession in Scotland when, on 24 March 2020 and with little or no warning, the application record was closed by the Keeper and any hope of maintaining transactional capacity for property deals during the lockdown faded. However, to their credit and with a speed hardly seen outwith times of national emergency, new legislation was drafted, tabled and passed by the Scottish Government and hitherto paper based systems long in need of modernisation have been and continue to be digitised and brought into the 21st Century.
Echoing the wholly digital processes for advance notices for deeds registered on the Land Register of Scotland, as of 3pm yesterday (7 April 2020) solicitors can now submit digital applications for advance notices in respect of both transfers of part and first registration transactions where previously a paper application was required.
Moreover, deeds themselves can now be submitted digitally for both registrations in the Land Register of Scotland and the General Register of Sasines, albeit the processes for doing so are still being developed by Registers of Scotland. However, rest assured they will be up and running soon.
In short, even in the current lockdown property transactions requiring registration processes can still go ahead, subject to the vagaries of the necessary physical restrictions we’re living in for the moment.
These changes may not seem ground-breaking on the face of things, but coupled with the existing legislation passed some time ago (and little used) allowing digital execution of self-proving property deeds (see s.9A et seq of the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995), and the profession wide roll out in 2016 of the Law Society of Scotland’s Smartcard containing an advanced digital signature (in terms of The Electronic Documents (Scotland) Regulations 2014) and a qualified certificate (in terms of The Electronic Signatures Regulations 2002) rendering that advanced digital signature self-proving, we stand on the cusp of a digital revolution in the completion of property transactions that the registration processes have, until now, been the last remaining barrier to realising.
Business is necessarily agile; new technologies are or should be readily embraced and adopted. We now have a clear line of sight towards the end of weeks passing as documents physically do the rounds for execution and return before completion of transactions and submission to the Registers. Imagine a transactional world where a client in London, Paris, New York, or just on holiday with their family, can execute a deed digitally on the same day as their solicitor working from home or in an airport lounge can conclude the missive, transfer the completion money, pay the tax due and register the deed … and not one piece of paper is involved.
That is the world we are about to enter and it can and should be transformational for the legal profession and delivery of legal services in the property market.
By necessity, we have started down the road of modernisation and digitisation in property transactions, which was long overdue, and with some further development and the willingness to embrace a digital transformation which sits perfectly with the flexible and more agile vision of the ‘new normal’ to come, a slicker set of processes for clients and lawyers alike is within grasp.
Mark McEvinney, Senior Solicitor E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 0141 225 5275