Michael Draper provides an update on the current work of the Law Society’s Conveyancing and Land Law Committee
The Conveyancing and Land Law Committee is made up of a diverse group of expert practitioners (based in private practice and in-house), and a small number of ‘pracademics’ with substantial experience drawn from across the full spectrum of property work from the largest property practices in Europe through to sole practitioners.
Committee members take responsibility for discrete areas of work through sub-committee chairs and working groups while participating in all discussions and decision-making through the main parent committee.
The committee meets formally six times a year and a typical agenda will include reports and discussion relating to residential property including HM Land Registry, stamp duty land tax (SDLT) and land transaction tax (LTT), regulation, commercial property and searches alongside updates from the technical working group and the Property Section. Decisions made through the committee inform Law Society policy which translates into advice to members through guidance and practice notes.
As an example, a practice note currently being finalised is one on undertakings. This was prompted by the recent Supreme Court decision of Harcus Sinclair LLP v Your Lawyers Ltd  UKSC 32, noting that the court does not have supervisory jurisdiction over undertakings given by limited liability partnerships (LLPs), although enforcement is available through contractual means where all the elements of a contract including consideration are present. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), as regulator, has a clear role to play in relation to a failure in performance of an undertaking and so we have liaised with them on this issue. The Law Society has taken the opportunity to develop comprehensive draft guidance on undertakings which will be available shortly as a practice note, following the initial guidance on the decision in Harcus Sinclair.
However, developments in law and practice don’t coincide neatly with formal committee meetings. Members of the committee are therefore active on committee work through email and Microsoft Teams meetings on a weekly (if not daily) basis, supported by dedicated Law Society policy staff. This is remarkable given that committee members work on a voluntary basis and email exchanges often take place in the evening and at weekends.
By way of example, on the day I was asked to write this article, our policy adviser had raised issues with the committee in relation to the scope of a solicitor’s retainer and CON29 searches arising from the county court judgment earlier this year in Harry v Curtis Law LLP. This discussion was prompted by material that the Searches working group had been reviewing on a growing trend whereby homebuyers were left vulnerable to unseen road schemes that were planned but not yet under construction, leaving conveyancers wide open to complaints.
Within the hour, five committee members were engaged in discussion on the topic, especially around the importance of the detail and parameters of the retainer. Just as important as what you agree to do is what you will not be doing on behalf of the client.
County court decisions are not of course binding as a matter of precedent, and interested readers may also refer to Orientfield Holdings Ltd v Bird & Bird LLP  EWCA Civ 384.
On the same day, another email thread emerged in relation to the ‘green lease’ project discussed at our most recent committee meeting and the development of the Law Society’s short form commercial leases, which are currently being revised by the committee in regard to recent developments including issues relating to UK government policy around climate change. Current versions of the popular short form leases can be found here and leasehold forms here.
Much of the recent committee work is transformational – considering digital initiatives in conveyancing alongside UK government policy. We have recently noted that the UK government has responded to the digital identity and attributes consultation and looks set to legislate in this area.
Recently, form TA6 was amended to reflect changing evidence-based attitudes to Japanese knotweed which was and to some extent is still blighting many property sales throughout England and Wales. Committee members have been instrumental in making representations to the UK government in response to its call for evidence, working with DEFRA in the production of its report International Approaches to Japanese knotweed in the Context of Property Sales, which in turn informed RICS revised standards and guidance published this year on Japanese knotweed and residential property (effective from 23 March 2022).
In summary, the work of the committee is extensive and varied, and requires engagement on most days of the week by a dedicated voluntary group of individual practitioners. Supported by experienced and equally dedicated Law Society staff, we are all keen to support the members of the profession that we serve.