Blockchains, trust and land administration: the return of historical provenance
Griggs, LD and Thomas, R and Low, R and Scheibner, J, Blockchains, trust and land administration: the return of historical provenance, Property Law Review, 6 pp. 179-194. ISSN 1838-3858 (2017) [Refereed Article]
Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters (Professional) Australia Limited
Electronic conveyancing is here. But how will it evolve with the development of blockchains being touted as one means by which fraud in relation to land can be minimised, if not eliminated? With centralised land registries requiring expensive risk minimisation strategies such as a government-funded assurance fund, or the taking out of private title insurance, can blockchains provide a systemic level of security that can improve the land titles system, and lessen the need for other forms of risk minimisation? Advocates of blockchain technology are high on hyperbole with what it can offer to support smart transaction types in a number of ﬁelds. For others, blockchains have no great advantage when applied to physical assets such as real property, and are limited in their utility.This article seeks to advance the discussion, particularly in the context of land administration. Against a backdrop of fraud occurring in title by registration systems, the authors explain what blockchain technology is, before testing its validity by outlining four common fraud scenarios within land administration, and asking whether blockchain technology would have eliminated the frauds in question. The ﬁndings show that blockchains would have prevented the fraud in two of the scenarios, but not in the remaining two. In addition, the ﬁndings note some of the known unknowns that will need to be resolved prior to any enactment of a blockchain solution. The article’s conclusion is that where the process leading to registration is in some way unreliable, blockchains may offer some advantages. However, once the entry of the transaction is registered, blockchains can play no role in testing or checking the veracity of that entry. The authors also consider that, in the context of derivative interests in land, such as easements, mortgages and fee simples, blockchain technology is limited in capacity. Similarly, joint ownership of land is routine, yet the security nuances of blockchains may make joint ownership within a blockchain context difﬁcult. These last two limitations restrict the current applicability of blockchains and make its application questionable for existing, soundly established land administration systems.