As the Land Registry Department commemorates 30 years of operation, it is working steadfastly to transform the way it does business in a bid to enhance its role and function on the island.
In an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), newly-appointed Registrar of Titles, Winston Coppin, explained that through the implementation of modern technology, his organisation was achieving its main purpose of recording and registering all documents relative to land and as stipulated by the Property Law Act of Cap 236 and the Registration Act, Cap 229 of the Laws of Barbados.
“The vision is to become a world-class Land Registry and in this regard currently, the department has about 85 per cent in terms of its computerisation of the services it provides to the public,” he said.
Mr. Coppin recounted that prior to the commencement of the Land Registry in 1988, there was the Registry of Deeds, which saw property documents deposited for manual recording. This, he said, led to deposited documents being entered into an index book of names and title to land being passed according to these documents.
According to him, in order to pass “good title”, the index book was searched for a period of at least 20 years but the role of the Registrar of Titles then was to ensure that the documents were submitted in the proper form and that relevant fees were paid. Hardly anything about content concerned the Registrar of Titles, he observed.
With the history of the Land Registry traced back to the 1600’s, where the Registry of Deeds was tasked to manually record documents and where this still obtains to some extent, the urgency of computerisation within the Land Registry Department became obvious. The Registrar was not caught unawares.
“We are currently looking at a project which we call the Back Filing Project, which is basically the compiling of data which is in manuscript form and transferring that into digitised form for computer use.
“This is looking at the records of the Land Registry which go back up to the late 17th century – 1640, 1645. The point is once we have that information we would be able then to do away with the manual searches and we can do it online,” he explained.
Several of his staffers perceive the advent of technology as beneficial across the board. One such person is Senior Machine Operator in the Document Processing Section, Sharivon Graham-Moore, who lauded the strides made thus far.
“With the computerisation, you don’t have to do the searches manually anymore. It is a case where you now have real-time access to these documents. We also had various back filing projects going on. We started from December 5, 1997, and we worked backward to January 1, 1970.
“So, all those documents which initially would have been treated in the old way, that is, when they were submitted here they were photocopied and stored, have now been scanned and stored electronically. So, attorneys or their legal clerks now have access to information from 1970 to 1997. We then further went on to examining those beyond 1970; we would have started from 1969 and are working backward to make those documents available to the public in a computerised format,” she stated.
Pointing out that the Land Registry had now moved to input data as far back as 1952 where deeds would have been handwritten, Mrs. Graham-Moore stressed this would make it easier for any searches to be undertaken today.
This, she added, must be considered against the backdrop that the land registry was still running on the two systems, which are the registered parcels and the unregistered parcels of land. “It should be noted that deeds as far back as 1640 will be inputted,” she noted.
The Senior Machine Operator also revealed that the department was contemplating for the future online access of its digital records, a move that would allow attorneys or their clerks to actually carry out their searches from their offices. It is also expected to result in revenue for the Land Registry.
“It is a case where you actually have unlimited access in terms of a time frame. You have 24-hour access to the information, so, our client, that is, the attorneys or clerks, would become more efficient as well; it makes it easier for them,” the officer said.
While she emphasised the move away from manual service to computerised searches would minimise the amount of time spent by these individuals, Mrs. Graham-Moore noted that whereas a search would have taken days for an attorney or his clerk to fulfil, he/she could now do it in half an hour and could search any amount of names, thanks to computerisation of the department.