Electronic signatures legally valid
As of 4 September 2019, the Law Commission has confirmed that documents with electronic signatures, even when a statutory requirement for a signature predates the digital age, have legal force. Electronic signatures are valid for most cases, which is particularly useful seeing as millions of contracts are electronically signed every day.
The report states that an electronic signature is capable, in law, of executing a document (including a deed) provided that the person signing intends to do so and that any further required formalities (such as a witness) are satisfied.
However, the report does not go so far as to endorse further technological advances in executing documents. For example, remote witnessing over video link would not be valid. Under the current law, a deed must be signed in the presence of a witness and this must be the physical presence of a witness.
The Law Commission made some recommendations concerning the practicalities of electronic execution and the rules for executing deeds. Some of these include:
- Setting up an industry working group to consider practical and technical issues around electronic signatures and provide best practice guidance for their use in different types of transactions;
- Video witnessing for deeds – the industry working group should look at solutions to the practical and technical obstacles that exist to video witnessing; and
- A future view of the law of deeds, to consider broad issues about the effectiveness of deeds and whether the concept remains fit for purpose and specific issues which have been raised by stakeholders.
The Law Commission also has said that the government may consider codifying the law on electronic signatures in order to improve the accessibility of the law, so watch this space!
Katherine Parker is a trainee solicitor currently working in the Private Client department at Barker Gotelee, Ipswich Solicitors.