Electronic signatures are valid says UK Government’s legal experts

Despite getting the green light from the Law Society in 2016, nervousness has remained around the use of eSignatures but today (21 August) the Law Commission confirmed that eSignatures can be used to sign formal legal contracts under English Law in a move that may speed up adoption.

Law Commissioner Stephen Lewis said: “Contract law in the UK is flexible, but some businesses are still unsure if electronic signatures would satisfy legal requirements.

“We can confirm that they do, potentially paving the way for much quicker transactions for businesses and consumers.

“And not only that, there’s scope, with our proposals for webcam witnesses, to do even more to make signing formal documents more convenient, speed up transactions and get business booming.”

The EU-wide eIDAS regulation says that an electronic signature cannot be denied legal validity simply because it is electronic and that that electronic signatures are admissible in evidence in legal proceedings.

But legislation in the UK does not expressly provide for the validity of electronic signatures and this lack of clarity in the law is discouraging businesses from executing documents electronically when it would be quicker and easier to do so.

The Law Commission hopes that this latest move will encourage greater use of eSignature technology and it is taking views on whether:

– the government should set up a group of industry experts to monitor the use of electronic signatures and advise on potential changes which could help businesses as new technology emerges

– webcam or video links could be used instead of a physical witness for documents which require witnessed signatures

– there should be a move away from traditional witnessing in person to:

– a signing platform alone, where the signatory and witness are logged onto the same programme from different locations; or

– the ability of a person to “acknowledge” that they applied an electronic signature to a witness after the event

– there should be a further project on whether the concept of deeds is fit for purpose in the 21st century

The Electronic Execution of Documents consultation is here: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/electronic-execution-of-documents/.

The deadline for responses is 23 November 2018.