Torrens title is a land registration and land transfer system, in which a state creates and maintains a register of land holdings, which serves as the conclusive evidence (termed "indefeasibility") of title of the person recorded on the register as the proprietor (owner), and of all other interests recorded on the register. The interests that are not guaranteed are called “paramount interests”. Ownership of land is transferred by registration of a transfer of title, instead of by the use of deeds. The Registrar would provide a Certificate of Title to the new proprietor, which is merely a copy of the related folio of the register.
The main benefit of the system is to enhance certainty of title to land and to simplify dealings involving land. The system has been adopted by many countries, especially those in the Commonwealth of Nations, and has been extended to cover other interests, including credit interests (such as mortgages), leaseholds and strata titles. The design and introduction in 1858 of the Torrens system in South Australia is generally attributed to Sir Robert Richard Torrens (1814 – 31 August 1884), who was Premier of the then colony, though some attribute the design to another.
The Torrens title system operates on the principle of "title by registration" (granting the high indefeasibility of a registered ownership) rather than "registration of title". The system does away with the need for proving a chain of title (i.e. tracing title through a series of documents). The State guarantees title and is usually supported by a compensation scheme for those who lose their title due to private fraud or error in the State's operation.
In most jurisdictions, there will be parcels of land which are still unregistered.
Mirror principle – the register reflects (mirrors) accurately and completely the current facts about title to each registered lot. This means that each dealing affecting a lot (such as a transfer of title, a mortgage or discharge of same, a lease, an easement or a covenant) must be entered on the register and so be viewable by cheap online search.
Curtain principle – one does not need to go behind the Certificate of Title as it contains all the information about the title. This means that ownership need not be proved by long complicated documents that are kept by the owner, as in the Private Conveyancing system. All of the necessary information regarding ownership is on the Certificate of Title.
Indemnity principle – provides for compensation of loss caused by private fraud or by errors made by the Registrar of Titles.