What is the Torrens title system?

The Torrens title system – named after South Australian Sir Robert Richard Torrens, who is largely credited with designing and implementing it – is a method of recording and registering land ownership and interests.

Established in South Australia in 1858, the then revolutionary and efficient land titling system was adopted throughout Australia and New Zealand, and subsequently spread across the world. Countries now using the system include, among others, England and Wales, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Iran, Canada and Madagascar.

The Torrens title system works on three principles:

  1. The land titles Register accurately and completely reflects the current ownership and interests about a person's land.
  2. Because the land titles Register contains all the information about the person's land, it means that ownership and other interests do not have to be proved by long complicated documents, such as title deeds.
  3. Government guarantee provides for compensation to a person who suffers loss of land or a registered interest.

Before the Torrens system

Before the Torrens system was introduced in 1862, a General law title system operated in Victoria.

A General law title consisted of a chain of title deeds all of which had to be in place to enable a property to be transferred.

Title deeds are documents that show ownership, as well as rights, obligations, or mortgages on a property.  A General law title could have many deeds, many of which were handwritten, not always legibly.

In colonial times, there was often confusion with the General law title system, particularly if one or more deeds were misplaced.  Because all deeds had to be made available when a property changed ownership there would be serious problems if a deed was missing. The General law title system depended on proof of an unbroken chain of deeds back to the original grant. This chain was made up of all the documents involved in every sale, resale or mortgage of the property.

Torrens created a central registry where all transfers of land are recorded in the register, thereby producing a single title with a unique number (or folio) that also records easements, mortgages and discharges of mortgage.

There are still some General law titles in existence today. A program to convert Victoria's few remaining General law titles to the Torrens title system continues.