Electronic signatures – yes or no?
Law Commission says electronic signatures are officially valid – but not for everything
The debate over electronic signatures appears to have been settled by the Law Commission. A short statement issued by the Law Commission has confirmed that legal documents signed electronically are lawful in England and Wales.
The clarification means that documents with electronic signatures on them can be admitted in evidence in court proceedings. There has always been a flexible attitude to the form that signatures can take. A signature can be a mark such as an ‘X’, a person’s initials, a name written in block capitals etc. The courts have even accepted that clicking an electronic tick-box can constitute a valid signature.
The Law Commission has concluded that electronic signatures should be accepted as a valid way to execute a document provided that certain conditions are met by the persons signing the documents.
- the person signing must intend to authenticate the document
- any legal formalities for the signing the document must be complied with such as witnesses etc.
Wills and land deeds
The Law Commission identified two very important exceptions to the use of electronic signatures. Wills and ‘registered dispositions’ – those are deeds to put into effect a transfer of land can’t be executed by electronic signatures.
The glaringly obvious concern about accepting electronic signatures is the potential for fraud. It’s very difficult from a forensic point of view to prove who ‘signed’ a document electronically. The debate about physical, so-called ‘wet signatures’ versus electronic signatures in relation to Wills and deeds is likely to go on for some time. Technology may well supply a solution in the future but for now, we are all still going to need a pen and paper.