Legal professionals unaware of Scottish Barony Register

Legal professionals unaware of Scottish Barony Register

Alastair Shepherd

The Scottish Barony Register (SBR) is “not well enough known” in the legal profession, according to its custodian.

The SBR is a non-statutory register established by members of the legal profession in Scotland following the passing of the Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 2000. On 28 November 2004 feudal law was abolished in Scotland and barony titles could no longer be registered in the Scottish Land Registers. Lawyers and others involved in baronial matters decided that a privately created and run register would help to maintain the integrity of the market, and so created the SBR.

Writing in the SBR’s annual report, custodian Alastair Shepherd writes: “I remain concerned that the existence of the SBR is not well enough known among the legal profession. A bigger concern is that as those familiar with feudal law retire, baronies are ‘missed’ in both conveyancing and executry practice.

“Conveyancers are less and less likely to spot the existence of a barony title and of course the Registers of Scotland no longer register them. I have come across two instances this year of baronies being spotted only by astute practitioners, very much at the tail end of a transaction. I do hope that no practitioner finds themselves in trouble for missing the existence of what can be a very valuable asset.”

Last year saw four new registrations and five assignations of already registered dignities.

“Historically, registrations have varied from 26 in 2019 to 4 in 2006. In 2022 there were 13 registrations; last year (2023) there were 9. This total constitutes a “quiet” year for the SBR, but it has sometimes been quieter,” Mr Shepherd records.

“The SBR now has 188 dignities registered, most being baronies. Many have changed hands at least once since the creation of the register; some as many as three times. Opinions vary as to the amount of baronies created but it is likely to be much more than the registered total. For instance, many estates with baronial dignities attached have remained in the same hands since 2004, and the owners clearly see little point in disturbing the status quo.”

Mr Shepherd also notes public confusion over the function of the SBR.

He writes: “Queries from members of the public generated through the website are mercifully few. Despite the website being quite clear on the subject, members of the public still think I can buy/sell baronies, or recommend a course of action.”

Fees increased at the beginning of 2023: a first registration is £800; a subsequent ones is £400; a letter of comfort is £75 and certificates of registrations are £150. No increase in fees is planned for this year.

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