Digital signatures have been used for the first time in the exchange of contracts for a residential property transaction in England, a trade body has announced today.

The Conveyancing Association said the e-signature exchange took place on 6 April at 3.59pm. Conveyancers and their clients at association member Convey Law used affiliate member Bonafidee’s e-signature facility to sign the contract for both the sale and purchase element of the transaction.

Convey Law legal director Gareth Richards confirmed the exchange was for a house transaction, describing it as a ‘significant step in the right direction’ for e-conveyancing.

Lawyers on both side uploaded the agreed contract to the Bonafidee system, which was sent to the seller and purchaser to electronically sign. The system was able to confirm that the document was read and signed, with a code replacing the signature.

The contracts were exchanged under the Law Society ‘Formula B’ for exchange (where each solicitor undertakes they are holding a contract signed by or on behalf of their client).

Davies said: ‘The clients are now far more happy in dealing with documents and signing them electronically than they ever have been in the past and we see this very much as the future, as other conveyancers come to terms with using this technology with their clients.’

Earlier this year Land Registry consulted on amending rules to allow documents to be signed online by the government’s Gov.UK.Verify process.

Convey Law managing director Lloyd Davies said using electronic signatures to exchange contracts was not difficult because witnesses are not required at this stage of the conveyancing process.

Davies said: ‘It is not difficult to see how electronic e-signatures can replace the need for deeds, which currently need to be witnessed by another individual once the appropriate proof of identity and verification checks and balances are in place.

Conveyancers at the association’s annual general meeting this month were asked how many of them checked the identity and authenticity of witnesses to deeds.

Davies said ‘it would not come as a surprise to any conveyancer that none of the conveyancers put their hands up to acknowledge they authenticated witnesses’.

An autograph, written signature and witness can easily be forged, Davies warned. ‘It is not so easy to forge the identity on an electronic signature which has gone through a series of rigorous identity and password code procedures,’ he said.

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