Ministry switch to online land registry sparks row with LSK

allen gichuhi

Law Society of Kenya President Allen Gichuhi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has opened a war front with the Ministry of Lands over what it terms an illegal move by the ministry to switch to online land transfers, locking out lawyers who have been charging fees for the service.

The society has said the ministry should stop the process by Monday, April 9, failure to which it will sue.

“In the circumstances, we urge you to immediately suspend the impugned and illegal online transfer and revert to the previous regime,” the society said in a letter to Lands secretary Farida Karoney.

The LSK said only lawyers are legally backed to facilitate land transfers, for which they charge a conveyancing fee. Online transfers, which favour land investors, threaten to cut off this revenue stream for advocates.

It is part of the transition from manual to digital transactions at the ministry, which has automated processes like land search, transfer of ownership or lease, issuance of consent and valuation requests, making it convenient for Kenyans.

With the switch, users only have to create an eCitizen account to transact from anywhere provided they have Internet access.

It has enabled users to pay land rents electronically and be issued with clearance certificates online, along with payments for stamp duty, registration , and consent fees.

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But LSK cites section 34 of the Advocates Act which states: “No unqualified person shall, either directly or indirectly, take instructions, draw or prepare any document or instrument relating to the conveyancing of property.”

State House, however, faulted the LSK’s demands, saying the society should be part of reforms to enhance flexibility and cut costs in the sector.

“One of the big challenges facing affordable housing plans is the cost and complexity of mortgages. A huge factor is the role of lawyers in driving up both costs and delays for buyers. The LSK must be part of reforming the legal regime for Kenyans to benefit,” said Nzioka Waita, the Chief of Staff and Head of the Presidential Delivery Unit
Integrity of registry.

The online switch, the LSK says, opens an avenue through which the integrity of Kenya’s land registry would be undermined and thereby erode the sanctity of titles.

“As we write, the new system is causing a huge gridlock at the registry and transactions worth billions of shillings are in jeopardy and will not be timeously completed.

“This will have a ripple effect on the economy and an adverse commentary in our land law system.”