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A brief history of Malaysian Land Law
Many of the current laws and rules that make up the Constitution of Malaysia were heavily influenced by Britain, India, and Australia. British influence occurred mostly during 19th century colonization of Malaysia (and surrounding countries) and affects of this colonization can still be seen in some of their systems. Many of the criminal codes practiced in Malaysia are based on an Indian system. Malaysia’s land laws are modeled after Australia’s laws—known as the Torrens system.
Before the Torrens system, all land belonged to the sovereign and others were allowed to use the land, as long as 10% of the profit made off of it went back to the sovereign. Some interesting facets of Malaysia’s land laws before the Torrens system show how they were influenced by the popular religion of Islam; for instance— land that was obtained during marriage by a husband while a wife was working only as a housewife would be given to the wife in the event of the husband’s death or divorce.
The Torrens system
Torrens Title was developed in the 1800s by one Robert Torrens so solve issues of land ownership many in Australia were struggling with. As with many British-influenced countries, eventually Malaysia adopted this system. “Torrens title” generally involves one central land register. This register contains information on every piece of land and who the owner is. In order to transfer land (buy, sell, death, etc.,) there must be a transfer of ownership. Similar to selling a car here in the United States, there must simply be a title transfer for the land.
(Nearly half of the states in the United States has attempted at one point or another to adopt the Torrens system.)
Trouble in the System
This title and registration system was implemented to simplify and streamline land dealings, but it has brought with it many issues of fraud. To this day, the government struggles with indefeasibility and ownership glitches. This fraud, which has become a common and unfortunate occurrence, generally involves an original landowner and a third party legitimate purchaser. The second party, or the one in between the two, forges the documents, posing as the original landowner, and sells the land that is not his to the third party. Neither the original landowner nor the purchaser is at fault in this situation, and it is difficult to rectify the situation. More security is being put in place and this problem is slowly being rectified, but they have a long way to go before Malaysia’s land law is perfected.