Many statutory requirements for documents to be in writing and signed under hand can be satisfied through digital signatures, the Law Society says today in a practice note that should increase confidence in the use of e-signatures in day-to-day legal work.
The note, developed by a joint working party of the company law committees of the Society and the City of London Law Society, sets out the relevant law around the use of e-signatures on commercial contracts.
This includes an EU regulation establishing a legal framework on electronic ID and trust services (the eIDAS regulation) which came in to force on 1 July. However the note says that its conclusions are based on wider principles of English common law.
Law Society company law committee chairperson Elizabeth Wall said that although e-signatures have been in use for some time, there has been no consensus on their validity.
One reason is that numerous statutes require documents to be in writing and/or signed.
Examples listed in the note include the contracts for sale of an interest in land under the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 and assignments of copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The practice note sets out reasons, including Court of Appeal judgments, why electronic documents and signatures can satisfy such statutory requirements.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said the practice note will provide solicitors with greater certainty when using electronic signatures on commercial contracts.
'Solicitors are eager to take up any opportunity to innovate, and this practice note will help guide them in making ever-increasing use of this small but significant improvement.'
Mark Nuttall, partner at magic circle firm Linklaters, said that digital signatures would be attractive to clients: ‘Completing a signing in the traditional way can be a lengthy process, whereas through mobile technology, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a tablet or smartphone, it can be reduced to minutes, whilst maintaining the formality and security of a hand-written signing.'