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‘Not thought through’: City partners call on Government to protect impartiality of Land Registry

Senior lawyers have called on the Government to protect the independence of the Land Registry following proposals to privatise its operations.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid launched a consultation in March on moving Land Registry operations to the private sector.

But City partners have expressed concerns about the proposed sale of the organisation, which collects and holds information on the ownership of land and property in England and Wales.

Hogan Lovells global real estate head Jackie Newstead told Legal Business: ‘The conclusion that I came to from looking at the proposals was that there are a lot of things that have not been properly thought through.’

Newstead (pictured), who also chairs the City of London Law Society Land Committee, said any decision on the Land Registry would have to ensure it remains impartial.

‘The decision on whether or not the Land Registry should be privatised is a political one and it is not for me to comment. But if the decision is to do it then Government should be very careful to ensure that the way it’s done includes the right protections, both for the public and for the wider commercial market, to ensure that the independence of Land Registry is protected.’

Macfarlanes partner Dominic Cunliffe said: ‘The Land Registry is a fundamental part of what underpins confidence in UK real estate. The Land Registry is part and parcel of what attracts investment to the UK – objectivity, impartiality, accuracy. People will be worried that, even with a state-backed guarantee, the Government will be divorcing itself from the operation of the service.’

Cunliffe added that commercial real estate is a complex area which had received significant investment focus in recent years, so there would be a concern with anything which might affect the market.

‘There is a significant body of expertise at the Land Registry that engages with practising lawyers day-to-day. If the supply of that service goes to a profit making organisation there may be an unwelcome move in focus in terms of the services supplied.’

Privatisation was proposed under the Coalition Government in 2014, but the move was blocked by the then Business Minister Vince Cable.

Earlier this week the Law Society responded to the consultation, stressing the need for safeguards to minimise corruption and fraud.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘The Law Society is not convinced, from the information supplied to date, that sufficiently robust safeguards will be imposed and successfully enforced if the Land Registry’s operations were sold off. Without solid assurances on these, the Land Registry should remain in public ownership.’

Smithers said the drive to slash the budget deficit should not result in the privatisation of the Land Registry. He said the sale of its operations could create conflicts of interest and raise competition issues.

‘There is also a risk of an adverse impact on the impartiality of registration services, which are critical to the trust and confidence of users,’ he said.