In Hong Kong, the security given by legal title to property is at present
provided by a deeds registration system operated by the Land Registry
under the Land Registration Ordinance. This legislation was first enacted
in 1844 and is the oldest local law still in force in Hong Kong. Around
$1,000 billion in loans is currently extended to families and businesses
in Hong Kong against the security of registered property. In 2003, 102
313 matters were registered.
The Land Registry has some 500 staff members. It is
organised into the Urban Land Registry, serving Hong Kong Island and Kowloon,
and eight New Territories Land Registries. A single document imaging centre
serves all the registries and there is also a Reports on Title Office.
The department is responsible for registering documents affecting land
and keeping land records for public inspection. The department operates
on a Trading Fund basis, under which it has to meet its operating costs
out of its revenues from fees and charges, and finance investments in
The Land Registration Ordinance provides that documents
affecting land have priority according to their respective dates of registration.
Registration is not mandatory but the benefit that it gives through protecting
interest in land creates a strong incentive for matters to be registered.
A land document is registered by delivering it to
the appropriate land registry with a memorial, which contains the essential
particulars of the document, and the prescribed fee. These particulars
are then entered into a computerised land register for the relevant piece
of land or property. The registered land document is scanned and stored
as an electronic image on an optical disc.
Each land register provides a record of transactions
affecting a property, starting from the grant of the relevant government
lease. The registers, memorials and related land documents are available
for search by members of the public at every search office, on payment
of a fee. Subscribers and customers may conduct a one-stop search for
properties anywhere in Hong Kong at their own offices and at every search
office in the registry through the introduction of the Direct Access Services
and the Cross District Search Service, respectively.
The Land Registry is implementing a strategic change
plan to improve the security of title that is provided and further enhance
the efficiency of its services. The plan involves re-engineering of business
practices and organisation structure as well as introduction of new technology
and new legislation.
The first elements of the plan were put in place in
2002. Amendments to the Land Registration Ordinance were passed that allowed
the department to plan for major organisational changes. The new legislation
allows the department to offer a unified registration and information
service for the whole territory in place of the separate Urban and New
Territories registries. On passage of the legislation, a contract was
signed for development of the Integrated Registration Information System
(IRIS). This will replace several separate information systems currently
in use in the department. It will support the organisational change and
help to improve service quality. Development and initial testing of the
IRIS was carried out during the year.
The scrutiny of the Land Titles Bill commenced in
March in a Legislative Council Bills Committee. This legislation will
provide the basis for changing Hong Kong's registration system from a
deeds-based system to a title registration system. The advantage of this
is that the ownership of property and the existence of charges, easements,
covenants and other rights affecting land can be established by reference
to the title register itself rather than by time consuming and inconclusive
research of historical documents. To facilitate the scrutiny of the bill
by the Legislative Council, the Land Registry held extensive discussions
with the Law Society of Hong Kong and other professional bodies to seek
their input into the process. Deliberations on the bill continued at year-end.
The IRIS is expected to be put into operation in
the third quarter of 2004. At the same time, the department will be reorganised
to replace the Urban and New Territories registries with a unified registry
serving the whole territory. Internet access to information services will
be provided, one-stop counter services introduced and the department aims
to achieve shorter business processing times for all services. The IRIS
system will continue to be developed to further improve services and support
the introduction of title registration, subject to enactment of the Land