Understanding the complexities of errors in property ownership

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Understanding the complexities of errors in property ownership

Oxford Brookes University’s Dr Simon Cooper has carved out a niche in his research on property ownership law. His current projects are working on what should be done when the wrong person is shown as the owner in the national land register.

Dr Cooper received one of the University’s Research Excellence Awards. The Awards were launched in 2016 as part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020.

The funding is enabling him to cover research costs and ultimately allow more time to dedicate to this unique body of work.

The Land Registry has to deal with millions of transactions - often much more complex than a basic house sale. Inevitably, the occasional error creeps in and sometimes a criminal will get past the anti-fraud measures. Dr Cooper’s latest work explores the legal response.

The obvious answer might be to set the register right once an error is found. That is often the sensible response. But the difficulty occurs when the land has been bought in good faith by an innocent third party. Dr Cooper analyses the rather crude legal provisions and makes arguments about how to fix the deficiencies.

As part of his exploration, Dr Cooper, Reader in Property Law, also conducted an analysis of how the law works in practice. He and his team examined all the reported cases in which courts had to decide whether or not to correct an error in the land register. His latest writing identifies the trends in these decisions and confirms that some bad stereotypes are being applied.

The Law Commission of England and Wales is looking at this topic with a view to reform and Dr Cooper’s papers have been taken into account by them. 

The research also looks at how to reduce errors in future. This requires a complex balance between the responsibilities on all the players involved in land transactions. They include property owners and buyers, their solicitors and the land registry. Sorting out these responsibilities will be particularly challenging where there is a move towards electronic conveyancing, as is currently underway in the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Cooper was recently invited to speak on his research in Ireland to an audience which included the head of the Conveyancing Committee and the head of the Land Registry.

Read more about Dr Cooper’s work via his profile page on the Oxford Brookes website.