Torrens, Hübbe, Stewardship and the Globalisation of Property Law Systems

Murray Raff

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The work of the Torrens reform group was a great achievement. They developed and pressed to adoption one of the first Land Title Registration systems in the common law world, whence it rapidly spread. Their multi-lingual and multi-disciplinary approach to a law reform project, crossing international legal families, was at least a century ahead of its time. Today we can identify key aspects of an international model of Land Title Registration, of which the Torrens system is one prime example. This is the globalising model of land tenure in the 21st century. The earliest European prototype of this model was used in the Hanseatic cities of northern Europe and was very influential. The Torrens reform group was aware of the mechanics and much detail of this system from a number of sources, foremost through an immigrant to South Australia from Hamburg, Dr juris Ulrich Hübbe, whose contributions at a juristic level largely shaped the enacted form of the reform measure. The influence of the Hanseatic system is also found in the modern German system, another prime example of the international model. Through well recognised processes of comparative legal reasoning, this historical sharing of juristic materials allows us to examine and find persuasive curial guidance in ways that longstanding dilemmas in the Torrens system, such as gifts of land as exceptions to indefeasibility of title, have been approached in the Hanseatic/German system. The most pressing question in all jurisdictions that operate the international model of Land Title Registration, and certainly Australia, must be how the conception of registered property interfaces with environmental protection, land use planning and the principles of ecological sustainability. When we examine the unfolding of the Hanseatic/German system in the modern world on this point, we find at the deepest levels a principle that property carries with it responsibilities. The same principle of responsibility requires one who holds an estate or interest in land to register it and requires one to act with due regard to the ecology of the land in question. Recognition of such a principle of responsibility, latent in the text of the Torrens legislation, as it was latent in the Hanseatic/German concept of property, would allow environment protection law its full voice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-289
Number of pages45
JournalAdelaide Law Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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