With the increase in digital communication and online transactions, practitioners may go through an entire transaction without ever seeing the face of their client. The importance of verifying a person’s identity continues to grow in an age where people are faced with identity theft, fraud and elder abuse.
From 1 October 2019, the Queensland Land Titles Registry will introduce updated Verification of Identity (VOI) requirements relating to the signing and witnessing of documents and instruments. The changes come as a result of the amendments to the Land Act 1994 and the Land Title Act 1994.
The Registrar’s requirements for witnessing and execution of instruments will be set out in a new Part 61 of the Land Titles Practice Manual. The final draft of Part 61 can be found here.
An instrument is validly executed by an individual if it is executed in a way permitted by law and the execution is witnessed by a qualified witnessing officer (e.g. a Justice of the Peace, a Commissioner for Declarations or a lawyer).
The new Part 61 will provide guidance for witnesses and outline the obligations of witnesses including the requirement to –
- take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the individual;
- take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual is the person entitled to sign the instrument or document (for example, they are in fact the owner of the land);
- retain, for 7 years, either a written record of those steps taken or originals or copies of documents or other evidence obtained to verify the identity of the individual and their entitlement to sign;
- have the individual execute the instrument or sign the document in their presence; and
- not be a party to the instrument or document.
There will not be a transitional period for these changes. Documents signed before 1 October 2019 will be examined under the old requirements and documents signed after 1 October will be examined under the new requirements.
As a general rule for practitioners, even when a client may or may not have to sign land registry documents, steps should be taken to verify his or her identity. Where a client is remote or unable to attend a law office in person, there are various service providers, including Australia Post, who have introduced VOI services.
When in doubt, if something seems suspicious, it is better to be safe than sorry and make your own reasonable enquiries about a person’s identity.
Individual liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation (personal injury work exempted).