General law and Torrens law

Under general law, proof of ownership of land relies on verifying the ‘chain of title’. This is done by reviewing each document for every transaction with a piece of land. This procedure can be cumbersome and expensive and Australia-wide legislation now requires general law titles to be converted to the Torrens system.

The Torrens law system operates through a registration process and, unlike general law, it does not provide a purchaser of land with a complete history of every entity or person who has ever owned it. The register is the ultimate proof of ownership and is considered indefeasible. This means that, in the absence of fraud, once a party’s interest in land is registered, it cannot be challenged.

At the time of writing (Jan 2011), all land in Queensland and the Northern Territory was under the Torrens system. A significant area of land in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia remains under general law, as does less than four per cent of land in Victoria.