Hong Kong 2003
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Land Registration

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 service improvements.

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 Titles Bill.

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