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Government changes conveyancing laws

News

Cite as: (2006) 80(9) LIJ, p. 23


The conveyancing landscape will change with the new government laws and the approach of e-conveyancing.

The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has welcomed the state government’s overhaul of the conveyancing industry, saying the new regulatory regime, introduced by the Conveyancers Bill 2006 (the Bill), would provide greater protection for consumers.

Progress on the introduction of e-conveyancing will also have benefits as systems are streamlined.

LIV Advocacy and Practice manager Natalina Velardi said a comprehensive regulatory regime for conveyancers in Victoria was long overdue.

However, the LIV was disappointed at the broad definition of “conveyancing work”, which included legal work relating to leases and mortgages.

“Providing advice in relation to leases and mortgages involves complex areas of law,” Ms Velardi said.

“And the LIV’s concern is that conveyancers would not be well placed to provide advice on those types of matters as they won’t have the necessary expertise in areas of law other than conveyancing.”

Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marsha Thomson said the legislation allowed conveyancers to compete with lawyers, opening up competition and potentially bringing down costs for consumers.

Under the new Bill, conveyancers would be required to:

  • obtain a conveyancer’s licence;
  • have undertaken mandatory professional qualifications;
  • have gained at least 12 months’ relevant practical work experience;
  • not be disqualified, such as having been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty;
  • have professional indemnity insurance cover;
  • disclose to clients all costs and any com-missions received;
  • have trust accounts audited annually; and
  • contribute to a fidelity fund to compensate consumers who lose money due to fraudulent conduct by conveyancers.

The Bill, if passed, will come into effect on 1 July 2008 or an earlier date if proclaimed. For more information, see http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/propenv/about/propenv-Latest.html

While the legislation allows conveyancers to undertake legal work associated with property transactions, they are not permitted to undertake some legal work such as establishing a corporation, applying for a grant of probate or letters of administration and work relating to sales of businesses.

But the government said it would review the exclusion of work relating to sales of businesses by 1 July 2009.

The new laws follow an inquiry prompted by the October 2004 collapse of Geelong’s Grove Conveyancing, which resulted in the loss of more than $6 million.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls, who second read the Bill in the Victorian Parliament on 10 August, said the law also followed a National Competition Council determination that the current regime was contrary to national competition policy, as legal practitioners had a monopoly on legal work for property transactions.

Meanwhile, e-conveyancing (also known as electronic conveyancing) has taken a significant step towards being introduced in Victoria, with major banks involved in a pilot of the system.

ANZ and Westpac banks were due to start piloting the system on 21 August for new mortgages and discharging mortgages.

Land Exchange (LX) e-conveyancing project manager Rick Dixon said the Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Bank, Bendigo Bank, Suncorp Metway and MECU would join the pilot by the end of the year.

Discussions were also taking place with other banks about joining in early next year.

Mr Dixon said the pilot would not involve property settlements, but would test most of the technical and business aspects of e-conveyancing.

E-conveyancing will be the single biggest change in decades in the way lawyers deal with property transfers and mortgages.

It will eliminate the paper shuffle that occurs before settlement day, the manual drawing and depositing of bank cheques into accounts and the need for people to meet in the same room to exchange documents and cheques.

It is based around the concept of an electronic lodgment file, where both relevant parties access a shared workspace through the Internet.

A number of issues remain outstanding, including the system rules for subscribers and Land Registry requirements.

Online forums, which will run until about mid-November, give lawyers the chance to comment on various aspects of e-conveyancing.

For further information see http://www.necs.gov.au/forums or Land Exchange http://www.landexchange.vic.gov.au/ec/index.html

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