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Appendix C: Saint Lucia land legislation of 1984

The following four laws provided the legal structure necessary for implementation of the national Land Registration and Titling Programme (LRTP) and a modern land registry.

1. The Land Registration Act (No. 12 of 1984) replaced the laws governing the ineffective deed-registration system. Under the old legislation, the simple fact of registration did not ensure the validity of a deed. The registrar was under no obligation to scrutinize documents beyond seeing to it that they were in the form prescribed by law. The principle of "caveat emptor" applied. Reasonable assurance that a proposed seller had good title to convey could only be obtained through a laborious and exceedingly costly title search by a legal practitioner. The difficulties involved in such a search were enumerated by the Land Reform Commission:

1. The record is kept under the names of transacting parties without any effective designation and indexing of the parcels of land to which dwellings relate.

2. The record is incomplete, as many rights to land do not arise from deeds at all, as in the case of inheritances.

3. There is no assurance that deeds which are presented and registered are consistent with previously registered transactions relating to the same parcel of land, or that these deeds have been shown to possess legal validity and are accurate in the facts which they set out.31

31 Land Reform Commission, op. cit., p. 22.

The cancelling of obsolete transactions and the weeding out of superseded documents was virtually an impossible task.

The registration system outlined in the new Act remedied these problems. Under the new system the state now examines each title to be registered and, having determined its validity, registers the land and guarantees the title. The title is then unassailable except on grounds of fraud. Once the system is in place, the accuracy of the register is maintained by a requirement that all transactions in land must be registered in order to be valid. The certainty of title is thus perpetuated and not permitted to deteriorate with the passage of time.

In addition, as suggested by the Land Reform Commission, the Act provides for a "trust for sale" mechanism to facilitate the transfer of family-land by assuring any purchaser that he or she is indeed acquiring clear title. Under a "trust for sale", the power to sell the parcel or subject it to a hypothec is vested in a family trustee or a limited number of trustees, who are shown as such on the register. The trustees are empowered to deal with the land and may convey good title. They remain accountable to the other co-owners for their share in the proceeds of the sale, but a purchaser's title is not affected by the fact that some of the co-owners were not consulted or did not agree to the sale. The "trust for sale" is a concept referred to in the Civil Code's Section on "Trustees", but has not yet been used in Saint Lucia.

2. The Land Adjudication Act (No. 11 of 1984) provided for a systematic survey of parcels and adjudication of titles, which is now a precondition to registration of titles and their guarantee by the State. Because of the legal effect of registration, adjudication is a quasi-judicial proceeding. An area is declared an "adjudication section", and a team headed by an Adjudication Officer identifies all the parcels of land in the section and surveys their boundaries. Notice is given for all those with interests in those parcels to bring forward their claims. Both ownership and other interests in land, such as leases and hypothecs, are noted. Disputes are resolved by the Adjudication Officer, whose decisions may be appealed to a three-man tribunal and then to the court of Appeals. When the adjudication process has been completed for the section, the first Land Register and Land Registry Index Map are prepared from the adjudication record, and the new land-registration system can begin to function in that section.

3. The Land Surveyors' Act (No. 13 of 1984, with Amendments Nos. Land 8 of 1986) replaced the Surveyors and Boundaries Settlement Ordinance and the Colony Survey Ordinance. The new law provides, in a manner consistent with the Land Registration and Land Adjudication Acts, for the licensing of land surveyors, the conduct of surveys, and the preservation of survey marks.

Together these three acts created for the first time an adequate legal infrastructure for the functioning of the land market. Because registration confers a guarantee of title, a purchaser can now confidently rely on the information shown on the register in making his purchase, and a lender may do the same in accepting a registered parcel as security. The new system reduces land disputes and facilitates the resolution of those that still do arise. Moreover, computerization of registry records provides the Government with an automatically up-dated data base on land for a variety of planning purposes.

The benefits of this registration system are not conjectural: a wealth of previous experience has proven that the system helps. Similar systems have been introduced in several islands of the Eastern Caribbean and are in operation in many countries with a civil-law tradition (the registration system conforms even more comfortably with the civil law of property than with the English law within which it was developed). While the costs to Government of establishing the system are considerable, maintenance costs are relatively modest and can largely be met from fees.

4. The Agricultural Small Tenancies Act filled an important gap in the substantive law of Saint Lucia. Modeled on legislation currently in effect in several countries of the Eastern Caribbean, this law provides a legal framework for leases of small agricultural holdings, which have often been handled on a relatively informal basis and have thus been the object of considerable uncertainty for both landlords and tenants. The Act regulates the creation and termination of such tenancies, their assignment and subletting, compensation for improvements upon termination, and a variety of additional matters. The Small Tenancies Act does not regulate rents, and is intended primarily to provide both parties with that security of expectations which is so conducive to good husbandry.

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