Documents signed electronically - even when a statutory requirement for a signature predates the digital age - have legal force in England and Wales, the lord chancellor said today in a long-awaited confirmation of the law. The written ministerial statement was confirming the conclusions of last year’s report by the Law Commission, which itself had sought to clear any lingering doubts over the issue.
In its 124-page study of statute, common and case law the commission found that in ‘most cases’, electronic signatures are 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.
Endorsing the commission's conclusion, the lord chancellor said today that electronic signatures ’are permissible and can be used in confidence in commercial and consumer documents’.
However the lord chancellor conceded that some issues apart from the position in law need further expert consideration. The government has accepted the Law Commission’s recommendation that it convene an industry working group for the purpose. Its first task will be to consider the question of video witnessing of electronic signatures. Another issue is ensuring that allowing electronic signatures does not have any adverse impact, particularly on vulnerable people the lord chancellor said. Concerns have already been raised about the risks posed by putting processes such as applications for lasting powers of attorney online.
Backing another recommendation, the lord chancellor said the government will ask the Law Commission to review the law of deeds. However the review's timing 'will be subject to overall government and Law Commission priorities given the volume of law reform work which exists'.