Unregistered legal charge: void but still an encumbrance

In Siu Wing Yee Angeline v Earning Yield Ltd ([2013] HKEC 868, CFI) S had agreed to sell property to P. Both parties wanted to proceed. The question was, though, whether S’s title was subject to an encumbrance. S had been a shareholder and director of company H. She had granted a charge to company N, a fellow shareholder in H. H was struck off the register. N was later also struck off the register. There had been no release of the charge granted by S to N.

The District Court had ordered the vacation of the entry relating to the legal charge at the Land Registry so that the charge was now unregistered and so void, as between N and a later bona fide purchaser or mortgagee (Land Registration Ordinance s.3(2)). The shareholders of N had sworn statutory declarations purporting to acknowledge that any action to recover debts due to N from S would be time-barred, The statutory declarations stated that they had no intention of enforcing the charge and had no objection to the entry relating to it from being vacated from the Land Registry.

The Court held, nevertheless, that S’s title was bad. The court order dealt with registration but the legal estate remained in existence. The effect of the order was not (and could not be) to bring the legal estate to an end.  There was no evidence to show when the debts secured by the mortgage would fall due and so the Limitation Ordinance could not help. Although the charge could not be enforced against a subsequent purchaser or mortgagee, it was still in existence. Section 12A of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance could, potentially, have been of use but there was no information to show what the appropriate payment into court would be.

The risk of enforcement may be low but this is irrelevant when the title is indisputably bad. S had agreed to sell the property free from encumbrances but could not do so.

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