Signatures on forms granting lasting powers of attorney will no longer need to be physically witnessed, under Ministry of Justice proposals to create an ‘all digital’ service.

However, critics said the system would be open to abuse and fraud.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 requires all lasting powers of attorney to be made on paper, in a prescribed form. To meet a government effort to make public services ‘digital by default’, the MoJ last summer made the process available online, but with forms that still needed to be physically signed and witnessed.

A document published last week for consultation proposes offering an all-electronic process, with users signing electronically via a ‘trusted third party’. It also proposes improving the design of the form and combining the forms for granting powers of attorney for financial and health purposes.

The consultation stresses that the paper-based service will not be removed. ‘We recognise that not all customers have access to digital services,’ it said.

However, John-Paul Dennis of north-west firm Kirwans described the proposals as ‘ludicrous’, saying that removing the need for a witness ‘would leave the system completely open to abuse and fraud’.

He noted that full-scale legislation will be required to introduce the changes. ‘Parliament simply cannot let that happen,’ he said.