Ian Watts– providing legal services in Gibraltar since 2002
Gibraltar Land Law
Gibraltar is a tiny rocky promontory that lies to the South of the Iberian Peninsula. A British Overseas Territory, it comprises 2.6 square miles of land.
As a matter of land law, title paramount to the territory of Gibraltar is vested in His Excellency the Governor of Gibraltar on behalf of the Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
The vesting of land in the name of the Monarch is a legal fiction that dates back to the Norman Invasion of England in 1066 A.D. The Norman kings took no laws with them so that they created a ‘’legal fiction’’ in that all the land in the realm was vested in the Conqueror, William of Normandy. Gibraltar Law mirrors the common law of England & Wales (subject to local modifications) and Gibraltar accordingly adopts the latter common law fiction.
Gibraltar’s Property Market
Gibraltar may be tiny but over the past 20 years, she has witnesses the construction of a prodigious number of high rise residential buildings – from the luxury end of the market to affordable housing (geared mainly for young couples). There is also a fair share of social housing in Gibraltar.
Property in Gibraltar is generally expensive. The mainstay of the property market comprises apartments but there are many villas, maisonettes and in particular, English & Spanish colonial-style houses scattered around Gibraltar. The latter tend to be found in the centre of town and upper district, whereas the former are frequently seen in the South District and Upper Rock Nature Reserve.
Gibraltar Leasehold Interests
In Gibraltar there are of course freehold interests (as well as ‘flying freeholds’) but in practice, the common instrument of granting title to land is by way of an ‘’Underlease’’ carved out of a superior estate, being a ‘’Headlease’’. Successive purchasers of property then usually transfer the unexpired residue on the Underlease by Deed of Assignment. Again, what in practice the majority of purchasers usually obtain when buying a flat for the first time in Gibraltar (straight off the completion and construction stage) is an Underlease for 99 years.
Gibraltar Conveyancing System
The system of conveyancing of property in Gibraltar is generally different to that of England & Wales. Gibraltar does not have a system of registered land conveyancing – what applies in Gibraltar is the system of unregistered conveyancing which was the principal form of transfer of title that prevailed before the promulgation of the 1925 Land Acts in England. Post-conveyance of Title in Gibraltar, Title Deeds are nevertheless registered with the Registrar of Land Titles.
Other Aspects of Gibraltar
It is noteworthy that there is no Capital Gains Tax in Gibraltar: however, there is a land transfer tax in the form of Stamp Duty. Furthermore, Gibraltar has legislation in place for high net-worth individuals with attractive tax incentives if they take up residency in Gibraltar. The advent of high-luxury apartments in Gibraltar has benefited this process.
Gibraltar also has tax legislation in place to attract highly-skilled migrant workers to the jurisdiction. Those who meet the criteria laid down by Gibraltar Law to benefit from the special tax regime become known as “HEPSS Individuals”.
Public Transport System
The public transport system is fairly well organised and dependable in Gibraltar. The system is comprised of a fleet of buses which call at bus stops throughout Gibraltar generally speaking, on the hour, or every half an hour.
There is a private local school called “Prior Park School Gibraltar” as well as mainstream schools. English is the primary form of language taught at school.
European Union – Brexit
Gibraltar was part of the European Union, not its own right, but under HM Government for the United Kingdom, as a state for whose external relations the UK Government has responsibility for. When the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020, so did Gibraltar.
Tourism & Golf Nearby Gibraltar
Gibraltar’s geographical location provides residents with the benefit of being able to travel to tourist hot spots, such Marbella in the Costa Del Sol (which is about 1 hour away in car) or Seville (which is about 2 ½ hour’s drive from the Rock) or indeed, Tarifa to the West (which is about 40 mins drive from Gibraltar). Incidentally, there are several golf courses very near Gibraltar – in San Roque, Estepona and Marbella.
Gibraltar also has an airport flights to London, Bristol and Manchester – flights to and from London are daily.
Moreover, to the South of the peninsula lies Morocco in North Africa. There are also flights to Casablanca and Tangier from Gibraltar twice-weekly.
Finally, Malaga Airport in Spain is just under 2 hours drive from Gibraltar, with daily flights to many a country across the Globe.
For further information about property law in Gibraltar, please contact Ian Watts.
©Ian Watts, Barrister-at-Law, 2017-2023. All Rights Reserved.