EDITORIAL: For love of the land
The debate on the Land (Title Proceedings) Bill will be seen as one of the more important ones in Parliament for many a year, since the bill’s content touches on an issue dear to our people and of essence to the development of this country.
Social historians will tell us that land that cannot be sold and exchanged because of restrictions on its alienation constitutes a drag on the development of the society.
This has been the experience of the British and it has also been our reality – the more so since the days of slavery and the attainment of power and relative wealth by the former slaves.
It is not surprising, therefore, that from time to time legal procedures have been developed and amended to allow landowners who have no paper title to pursue certain steps designed to clothe them with legitimate titles for lands in their possession.
But titling land is not a problem only for societies which have come out of slavery. Rather, land is so important a component in the social mix of a country’s development that as far back as 1066, William the Conqueror consolidated his conquest of Britain by systematically controlling the disposition of land.
Legal history shows that the use of fictions to secure proper paper titles for land were present even in those early times.
In following our counterparts elsewhere, we have allowed for certain fictitious lawsuits to be filed. These would result in perfectly legal orders from the court, directing the sale of the land.
In this way, the true owner could buy the property from the Registrar of the Court and thereby secure for the first time a proper paper title which could be negotiated with banks and other mortgage institutions and would be accepted as a good root of title.
It is to facilitate the speedier resolution of title suits that the bill was drafted.
We support the bill since it seeks to put on a legislative footing a necessary procedure; for given the immovable nature of land, some kind of paper title is absolutely necessary if land is to remain a dynamic commodity capable of easily changing hands for the better social development of the island.
There is some criticism that the bill may have some faults as drafted. These arguments may well be sound, but it is clear that the bill is a vast improvement on the erstwhile practice, and also that numerous title deed applications made under the old practice have become stalled because the new rules of the civil procedure system enacted in 2009 did not capture the old system in its provisions.
It is principally for this reason that we urge members of the legal profession who practise in this area to give the new system every chance of succeeding and to note any teething problems.
It may be useful for the Barbados Bar Association to establish a committee of experienced practitioners to monitor the progress and experience of operating the new practice and, in conjunction with the Registrar, to report to the learned Attorney General at intervals so that the bill may be better fine-tuned to serve the needs of our people.