Registration as applied to land can be understood as a system of recording in a public office from time to time transactions on or relating to land, or the mere fact of ownership of some interest in land. There are, it seems three main types
- Registration of encumbrances or charges;
- Registration of deeds or instruments—primarily a system under which instruments are recorded merely as such, and not with special reference to the land they purport to affect; and
- Registration of title - that is, primarily a system under which a record is made of the title to some particular land vested in some particular person for the time being, or of instruments as affecting some particular land.
The system we have had in Ghana for over one hundred years is the registration of instruments, ie the second type. This was introduced by the Land Registry Ordinance, 1883,2 which was soon replaced by the Land Registry Ordinance, 1895.3 Both statutes had the object of ensuring stability and permanence of title for dealing with land. About this time the number of legal practitioners in the country who had been trained in English law was increasing. More importantly, the number of Europeans concerned with dealings with land in the country was growing.4 The Land Registry Ordinance was then regarded as a very big step forward to ensure that there was some written evidence of such transactions; and the provision of a public office for the registration of deeds and other instruments relating to land was adequate. The system provided was of course not compulsory, for section 5 of the Ordinance used the word "may" and not "shall" or "must." If instruments were registered under that Ordinance they took effect from the date of execution (if registration was within certain specified times) or registration. Of significance was the fact that registration of any instrument constituted actual notice of the instrument and of the fact of registration to all persons and for all purposes from the date of registration. Registration thus determined the priority which the law would give to documents relating to land.
It may be queried why the Legislature did not go further even then. It must, however, be remembered that some few years before the enactment of the 1883 and 1895 Ordinances,5 four bold attempts were made in England itself to introduce an elaborate system of registration of deeds throughout England and Wales. All these attempts were completely frustrated or resoundingly defeated in Parliament. A later Act establishing an office of land registry in London where land owners in England might register their title to land had failed completely because, it was said, Parliament had attempted to achieve perfection in their Land Registry Act, 1862. As Curtis and Ruoff put it, "the disregard of what was practicable brought about a failure so catastrophic that only four years after the passing of the Act a Royal Commission was set up to inquire into the reasons for it."6 From about 1850, the English were of course talking seriously about registration of title in order to facilitate the sale and transfer of land; yet these measures could not materialise fully until 1925. It thus appears that the Legislature's cautious approach was influenced by events in England itself.
In Ghana, we had to rely on the system of deeds registration aided perhaps by the relevant provisions on "concessions" under the Concessions Ordinance, 1900, and subsequent statutes on the same matters, especially the Concessions Court, for our purposes. Some improvements were introduced into the system by the Land Registry Act, 1962.7 One of the greatest disadvantages of the deeds registration system as compared with that of title registration properly so-called is the complete absence of any statutory warranty of title. In the case of registration of title, roughly, the registration of each successive owner is made a bar to adverse claims. But registration such as we have does not enable a purchaser to get a good title merely by succeeding his vendor on the register—and of course it does not save him the necessity for investigation of prior title. We do have facilities for making searches against particular parcels of land; but as the registrar does not have power to reject applications this does not really help much. However, as long as one keeps clear in one's mind the actual consequences of registration, there is no reason why one should find it difficult to think out and take the necessary precautions in each case at hand.
Under the Land Registry Act, 1962, registration does these two things and also affects the validity of the instrument; for section 24 of the Act provides that no instrument first executed after the commencement of that Act (except a will or a judge's certificate) shall have any effect until it is registered. The consequent position is that an instrument relating to land, after it has been executed, is in a quasi-valid stage until registration. It is in the normal case neither void nor valid; but such registration is then required, in the absence of any other invalidating factor, to make it completely valid. Also, as under the pre-1962 law, registration generally is actual notice of the instrument and of the fact of registration to the whole world and for all purposes as from the date of registration.