|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
The Office of the Registrar-General and the Office of Titles, previously known as the Registrar-General and Registrar of Titles until the passing of the Land Transfer Act 1954, was created in 1873 by the amalgamation of the Registrar-General's Department (VA 2889) with the Office of Titles (VA 2888). It assumed responsibility for the functions previously undertaken separately by the Registrar-General's Department and the Office of Titles, with the Chief Officer having the triple title of Registrar-General, Registrar of Titles, and Registrar of the Supreme Court until the latter title was dropped in April 1945.
In 1887 responsibility for the Drafting Branch (Land Titles) was transferred from the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (VA 538) to the Office of the Registrar-General and the Office of Titles. This branch was responsible for the preparation and verification of plans associated with certificates of title and applications lodged under the Transfer of Land Statute 29 Vic.,No.301, (1866).
Functions Exercised from 1873
The Registrar-General's responsibilities have included:
* registering, indexing, providing a search service and issuing certificates for all births, deaths and marriages (until 1893)
* registering the clergy and performing civil marriages (until 1893)
* compiling statistics and the `Blue Books' and periodic census taking (until 1874)
* registering public vaccinations for which District Registrars were responsible
* registering copies of orders of sequestration and adjudications of sequestration forwarded by Chief Clerks of the various district Courts of Insolvency under the provisions of successive Insolvency Acts from 1870. Such orders had previously been registered by the Sheriff.
* registering and/or collecting returns from friendly societies, hospitals, inquests (until 1988), banks, public companies, business names, bills of sale, deed polls, naturalizations, prisoners convicted, licence liens on agricultural land, memorials for land, stock, wool and crops, printing presses and newsprint, patents and the preparation of returns for Land Tax Commissioners
* registering Copyright (following the Copyright Act 33 Vic.,No.350 1869) until 1905, and patents (see 28 Vic.,No.432) until 1889
* registering Trade Marks (under the Trade Marks Regulation Act 40 Vic.,No.539 1876) until 1905
* administering stamp duties relating to Bills of Exchange and Promissory Notes, conveyance and transfer of land (under the Transfer of Land Statute 1866) and annual licenses for insurance and assurance companies (under the Stamp Duties Act 43 Vic.,No.645 1879) until 1879
* collecting all registration, search and certificate fees (until 1889)
* the safe custody of documents such as wills (section 14, Property Law Act 1958 (No.6344)), intestate estates and land deeds.
The Registrar of the Supreme Court was responsible for:
* registering and issuing deeds for all land transferred prior to the Transfer of Land Statute 29 Vic.,No.301 1866 and commonly referred to as land under the general law system
* signing all documents requiring legal verification.
Responsibilities of the Office of Titles have included:
* registering land under the Rural Property Act 25 Vic.,No.140 (1862) and the Transfer of Land Statute 29 Vic.,No.301 (1866) colloquially known as the Torrens System of land registration
* registering land alienated prior to the Act and bringing it under the new system.
The Registrar of Titles also exercised powers in relation to such matters as land mortgages, insolvent estates, placement of caveats on land titles, powers of attorney, married women and widows entitlement to land, and had survey and drafting functions by 1889. The Office was also responsible for drafting, guaranteeing and issuing titles and leases, providing sworn valuations and collecting conveyancing and search fees.
Functions Subsequently Transferred to Other Agencies
Functions for which the Office of the Registrar-General and Office of Titles ceased to have responsibility have included:
* compilation of statistics and periodic census taking which were transferred to the Office of the Government Statist and Actuary (VA 989) in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) in May 1874
* all the functions relating to stamp duties, fees collection and the Registrar-General's role as Comptroller of Stamps which were transferred to the Collector of Imposts Office created within the Law Department (VA 2825) in 1889 under the Stamp Duties Amendment Act 52 Vic.,No.1010
* the registration of patents which was transferred to the Commissioner of Patents within the Law Department (VA 864) in 1889 under the Patents Act 53 Vic.,No.1034
* all the functions connected with the registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages, registration of the clergy and performance of civil marriages which were transferred to the Office of the Government Statist and Actuary (VA 989) in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) in 1893 under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 56 Vic.,No.1303, possibly formalising what may have already been happening in practice
* all the powers and functions relating to the registration of copyright, with provision for those registered prior to the commencement of the Act, which were transferred from the Office and from state jurisdiction, and vested in the Registrar of Copyright and the Copyright Office under the Commonwealth Copyright Act in 1905 (No.25)
* the registration of trademarks which was transferred from the Office and state jurisdiction, and vested in the Registrar of Trademarks and the Trade Marks Office under the Commonwealth Trade Marks Act in 1905 (No.20)
* registration of companies which was transferred to the Registrar of Companies and the Companies Office (VA 2725) created within the Law Department (VA 864) under the Companies Act No.(6455) (1958)
* registration of inquests which was transferred to the State Coroner's Office (VA 2807) in mid-1988. From 1856 inquest depositions which were no longer required for the administration of justice had been forwarded by the Crown Prosecutor to the Office of the Registrar-General.
* the registration orders and adjudications of sequestration of the estates of insolvents was transferred from the Office and state jurisdiction to the Commonwealth Government in 1928 under the provisions of a Bankruptcy Act.
The Office of Titles was divided into two branches originally - a 'professional' or legal branch headed by the Commissioner of Titles, and the 'non-professional' branch headed by the Registrar of Titles. The Commissioner had legal responsibility for proving land titles on receipt of the examiner's report, and liaising with applicants and solicitors.
The Registrar of Titles had the power to take statutory declarations, correct errors in registration and lodge caveats on behalf of infant, disabled or absent persons, amongst other responsibilities.
In 1890, responsibility for the administration of the Registrar-General's Office, the Office of Titles, and the Commissioner of Titles Office was split and shared between the Registrar-General, the Registrar of Titles, and the Chief Examiner of Titles respectively. In 1893, the former two offices were again combined as the Registrar-General and Registrar (or Office) of Titles, under the one administration. The Commissioner of Titles Office then remained as a separate office for which the Registrar-General and Registrar of Titles ceased to have responsibility.
However, following the Transfer of Land Act 1954 (No.5842), a significant re-organisation in the administration of the Office of the Registrar-General and Office of Titles occurred in which the legal powers and duties previously vested in the Commissioner of Titles were vested in the Registrar of Titles, and the position of Commissioner of Titles was abolished.
Transfer of Office from Law (VRG 19) to Property and Services (VRG 69) 1985
Under the provisions of Administrative Arrangements Order No.19 of March 1985, responsibility for the Office of the Registrar-General and the Office of Titles was transferred from the Law Department (VA 2825) to the Department of Property and Services (VA 430). However, the Office continued under the administration of the Law Department until October 1985. On transfer to the Department of Property and Services, the Office of Titles became informally known as the Land Titles Office.
The Torrens System of Land Registration
Geoffrey Sawer describes the Torrens System, adopted in Victoria in 1862, thus:
This method of registering and transferring titles to land is generally attributed to Robert Torrens, a South Australian government official, and he certainly had a good deal to do with the adoption of the system in that State in 1858. The system spread throughout Australia and to many other countries. A large part of Australian land has been brought under Torrens title, and more comes under it every year, but in some areas there are still many acres which have not been brought under it and are usually referred to as 'old-law' land. There are methods of registering documents of title in relation to old-law land in official registries; this facilitates dealings in such land. However, these methods only lead one to the documents by which successive owners have acquired their interests; the 'title' consists of an aggregation of these documents, and the person wishing to buy such land has to run the risk that in a long and complex series of deeds he fails to understand properly what has happened or overlooks some weakness in or encumbrance on the title. Often a purchaser of 'old-law' land is unhappy unless he can trace title clear back to a Crown grant, which is a long, tedious process.
The Torrens system provides instead a single registered title document which authoritatively and beyond challenge states who is currently the 'registered proprietor' of the fee simple in the land; there may be a separate title document for derivative interests such as leases and mortgages, but if so the main title carries a note of them, and encumbrances such as easements are also endorsed on that title. After the system was adopted State by State, all fresh Crown grants were registered in this way. Exhaustive searches are made by officials of the Titles Offices when land previously granted by the Crown is brought under the Acts - which was at first done voluntarily and is now in many cases compulsory - to make sure that a person currently claiming to be the owner is in fact such. Often, for the reasons mentioned above, his title can be traced back in the manner usual for old-law land clear to the original Crown grant.
Once registration is effected, all the earlier history is forgotten and the earlier documents become superfluous, so far as persons now dealing with the land are concerned. A person wanting to buy a block of land can by various means track the block down through the Titles Offices indices, and will find on the main title document a simple and clear statement that so and so is the registered proprietor, and the buyer knows that if he finds that person, obtains a transfer in the prescribed form and has his, the buyer's, name placed on the register in place of that of the former owner, he will have a secure title, subject to the encumbrances appearing in the register. It was a feature of the system that the cumbrous, obscure and repetitious phraseology of the old conveyancing lawyers should disappear.
The Torrens title is expressed in simple language; so are the documents used to transfer interests and to give the various sorts of notice required by the registering procedure. Since such a high degree of conclusiveness is attributed to the register, the possibility was created that through mistakes, or even through fraud, some innocent party entitled to an interest in the land might be deprived of his interest; to take care of this, a part of the fees paid by persons using the system has been put aside in an 'insurance fund', out of which parties who suffer loss in such ways are compensated in full.
(Source: Geoffrey Sawer The Australian and the Law, Revised Edition 1972, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria p. 176-177.)
Location of Records
Many of the records of the Office remain in its custody, in particular titles records. Significant holdings of inquest and statistical records have been transferred to the Public Record Office.
See also List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.4.12 (company registrations), 3.18.2 (inquests, wills, statistics, land transaction registration records) and 3.18.3 (statistics, births, deaths and marriages).