In a move to help clarify the law surrounding the use of electronic signatures, the Law Commission has issued a report confirming that these are valid under English law.
As the report notes, lingering uncertainty around the legal validity of documents executed electronically is discouraging some parties from making use of technological solutions that could increase efficiency.
What is an electronic signature?
Whilst all of these had previously been identified as valid, there were concerns about whether they can meet the specific formalities of certain requirements.
What are the concerns about electronic signatures?
The report aims to address these issues as far as possible under the current law whilst also making recommendations for future actions.
What is the law on electronic signatures?
The Law Commission report sets out a statement of the current law on electronic signatures. The key conclusion is that, under English law, deeds and other documents can be signed electronically provided the person signing intends to authenticate the document and any other required formalities are satisfied.
Electronic signatures are also admissible in legal proceedings, for example, to prove a signatory's identity or their intention to sign the document.
Generally, the law does not prescribe any particular form or type of signature although this is subject to some exceptions in specific legislation or agreed contractual arrangements. Historically, the courts have taken a pragmatic approach and have held that signing with an "X" or with initials only, or using a stamp of a handwritten signature or printing a name, are all valid signatures. There is no reason why the courts would not take a similar approach to electronic equivalents of these forms of signature.
A note of caution about deeds
Whilst the Law Commission has confirmed that deeds can be signed electronically, they also confirmed that the requirement for a deed to be executed 'in the presence of a witness' meant that the witness must actually be physically present. A signature (whether electronic or wet ink) cannot be witnessed remotely, for example over some form of video link. To permit remote witnessing would require a change in the law and the report recommends that this is investigated.
Recommended next steps
The report makes a number of recommendations for future actions, including: