Inaugural ADLS Property Law Dinner

Conscious that we had never held a dinner for property lawyers – such as we do for employment and immigration lawyers – and that property lawyers might enjoy an opportunity to connect and discuss recent and far-reaching changes in the law in this area, ADLS recently hosted its inaugural Property Law Dinner at the Northern Club in Auckland.

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The event was timed on the eve of the Land Transfer Act 2017 coming into force, with those in attendance lucky enough to hear advance insights from Robbie Muir, Registrar-General of Land, who delivered the evening’s keynote address. It was also a chance for the profession to toast special guest Bryan Mahon, the inventor of the cross lease, which is now mentioned in the new Land Transfer Act.

The dinner was also perfectly timed given all the other changes in the property law arena over the last year, including the AEOI, CRS, FATCA, the LTA and LTRs, the OIA, and AML/CFT. These new requirements have meant a huge amount of training and compliance for practitioners, making a social night out with colleagues most welcome.

Robbie Muir commented on the highlights of this particularly exciting year for property law, and shared his own reflections on some of these developments – the Land Transfer Act, the forthcoming rebuild of Landonline, and the increasing rate of technological change in this area.

Mr Muir welcomed the first new Land Transfer Act in 65 years and its adoption of some longawaited changes after a ten-year gestation period, including the need for amended powers of correction.

By contrast, New Zealand was an early adopter of technology in the land transfer space, with Landonline in operation since 2000 and the move to compulsory electronic registration for practitioners in 2009 – putting us ahead of many other, still paper-based, jurisdictions.

He is also very pleased that Cabinet has now approved LINZ’s project to modernise Landonline, which will be progressively rebuilt over the next five years.

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“We plan to do this in four stages, which will allow us to incorporate changes in customer needs as we go along. The first stage should be in place by mid-2020 and will include a facility for lodging sale notices through Landonline and a web-based search function, which will give New Zealanders an ability to search for and purchase title and survey information directly from our website.”

Technological change and the need to keep up with it continue to throw up concerns (some more realistic, some possibly misguided) over the impact of AI on the practice of law. “Will title by registration be replaced by a blockchain system where people, or perhaps even proprietor-bots, can transact with each other directly? Or is there a dystopian future where AI lawyers complete virtual settlements, and are presumably regulated by some kind of robo- Registrar?” quipped Mr Muir.

After sharing a few amusing tales of AI antics from around the world – including a Russian robot named “Promobot IR77” escaping the lab and causing traffic jams in its bid for freedom; duelling Wikipedia “edit bots” which disagree with each other’s edits and aggressively over-write each other; and self-driving cars having been shown to have been fooled by adding paint or tape to stop signs – he concluded that the absence of “a human element” in so many of them “makes a completely automatic system of conveyancing and land transfer seem unlikely”.

“While digital technology has vastly improved the business of conveyancing and land registration, property rights are fundamentally about people, and it’s hard to see how the important role of trusted professionals and regulators could be completely replaced by a computer programme. Would a bank accept an undertaking from a chatbot? Would a first home buyer entrust his or her life savings to a potentially misprogrammed ‘Promobot’?

“The fact is that we don’t know what the future technological developments will be, but what we can do is ensure we’ve created the best possible framework for our land transfer system both to continue to meet the needs of New Zealanders but also move with the times. We think we’re well-placed to do this, with a new Land Transfer Act in place and a new Landonline system on the way.”

ADLS would like to thank Mr Muir for sharing his insights with us, and hopes that this event will become a regular feature of our collegiality calendar. 

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