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Electronic signatures

  • United Kingdom
  • Technology, Media and Telecoms

22-01-2019

Electronic or digital signatures have been in use for many years. Their treatment was codified in the EU, Australia and the US as long ago as 1999 and revised pan-European rules came into effect with the eIDAS Regulation in 2016. In the era of the “digital economy”, businesses operating across all market, are looking to move to a paperless model. As such many companies are embracing electronic signatures for agreements with customers, vendors and employees and, increasingly, for strategic arrangements including corporate re-organisations and M&A.

However, some barriers remain (for example certain documents to be filed at the UK Land Registry still require “wet ink” signature) and there is still some perceived legal uncertainty as to the validity of electronic signatures with some companies (and their lawyers) uneasy about using electronic signatures for key, high value documents. To address this uncertainty the UK Law Commissionlaunched a Consultation as part of the ongoing program of law reform. As an early adopter and advocate of e-signature technology, Eversheds Sutherland submitted a response and is working closely with clients, the Law Commission, the City of London Law Society and also with vendors (such as DocuSign and Adobe) to assess and resolve the legal and technical challenges,. One of the key areas of focus for the Consultation is to identifywhether changes are required to current legislative framework to clarify the use of electronic signatures for executing deeds and how the requirement for witnessing can be satisfied using technology.

It seems likely that some further legislative clarification and consolidation will follow as the UK looks to maintain its position as a world-leading digital economy. We have all become accustomed to shopping for personal goods and services online and making payments using our mobile devices. People now expect to be able to review, accept and sign their business contracts using their laptops, tablets and mobile devices. This is definitely a one-way trend that we see will only accelerate as electronic signatures become the “new normal”.

For more information please contact: Craig Rogers