RoS’ approach to the acceptance of electronically signed deeds has been intertwined with the creation, signing and submission of structured deeds within our systems. In other words, RoS have always envisaged obtaining operational benefits (through automation and re-use of data) from the introduction of a digital registration service in parallel with opening up the land register to electronically signed deeds.
A query received, which suggested, in simple terms, allowing electronically signed deeds to be submitted via the current digital submission service has certainly provided some food for thought, particularly given that the nature and complexity of applications that I receive from commercial firms may not be well suited to automation (and certainly not in the first iterations of any new digital registration service). I am sympathetic to the fact that the section of the conveyancing profession which is now at the point where the use of QES for registration could be a reality is likely to be one of the last to be able to use a digital registration service.
However, following internal discussions, I do not think the solution proposed is as straightforward as it might seem at first. Whilst it is correct to say that I should be able to rely on the certification of the submitting agent that the deed I receive is valid (and therefore correctly signed), the compensation provisions in my favour in s111(5) of the 2012 Act are only engaged where my staff have taken reasonable measures to avoid the loss. This is why, for example, the execution of wet-signed deeds is still checked at intake (for ex facie validity) and is why we feel that an equivalent process would be required for any electronically signed deed.
This would require IT development work, and specifically, the diversion of IT development resource from other work currently ongoing within RoS targeted at reducing the arrear. Given that RoS would see no operational benefit from opening the digital submission service to unstructured electronically signed deeds, I am unwilling to re-allocate this resource within the current development cycle.
Our development roadmap anticipates that we will be in a position to pilot the creation of simple QES signed deeds towards the end of this financial year, at which point some of the necessary changes required to open up the digital submission service to electronically signed deeds will be in direct contemplation. It may be that at that point, alongside the pilot offering, we open up to allow the submission of electronically signed deeds through the digital submission service, and this is something we are now considering (including how we would subsequently transition commercial customers to a structured digital registration service when one is built). We will, of course, keep you informed on this.
In the meantime, as a result of our discussions, RoS is currently considering whether there is an appetite to submit QES deeds for registration now as proposed, and this will inform our next steps.