The Deeds-Registration System
For a proper appreciation of the various systems of land ownership which have been operative in New Zealand, due weight must be given to the fact that title to land has always been a matter of public record. This is in direct contrast to the English system, where access to title records can be obtained only by consent of the registered owner. The New Zealand approach has almost certainly stemmed from the contest for land which was associated with the colonising activities of the New Zealand Land Company in the early 1840s. The gold-rush era also made it essential for the pioneers in this country to have certain public knowledge of the ownership of land. New Zealand can be said to be fortunate in that its period of colonisation coincided with a vigorous campaign for reform and order in the system of land ownership in the settled European countries. The Land Registration Ordinance Act of 1841 established deeds register offices in New Zealand and made provision for the registration of Crown grants of land and all subsequent deeds or other instruments by recording and entering a copy on the register. In 1842 a Conveyancing Ordinance was passed laying down the principles to be observed in the ownership of real property and, where necessary, establishing certain departures from the English law necessitated by local circumstances. This ordinance was the forerunner of our present Property Law Act of 1952 in the same way as the 1841 Deeds Ordinance eventually became the Deeds Registration Act of 1908. The deeds system provided a very necessary security of tenure for the early settlers in the difficulties which emerged from the sales of Crown land, the settlement of land claims with the Maoris, and the sudden influx of new settlers. The act of registration did not, of course, perfect the title, but it did provide a system of notice of interests against the land.
The deeds-registration system had the advantage of providing a maximum degree of elasticity, as almost every conceivable right or claim to a right in land could be registered and thus achieve public notice. It had the corresponding obvious disadvantage, however, that no inquiry was made into the authenticity of the deed either as to form or as to content; it was left to the prospective purchaser of land to investigate all deeds in the chain of title back to the Crown grant before concluding his purchase. The deeds-registration system in this country was to a large degree based on the recommendations of the English Royal Commission of 1830.