Electronic signatures ‘valid’

Electronic signatures can be used to execute documents, including where there is a statutory requirement for a signature, the Law Commission has confirmed.

This means that, in most cases, electronic signatures can be used as a viable alternative to handwritten ones.

Businesses and individuals are already using electronic signatures on contracts every day. But despite this frequent use, the Commission found that some parties still have doubts over whether an electronic signature can be used in particular situations.

The common law in England and Wales has always been flexible in recognising a range of types of signature, including signing with an ‘X’, initials only, a printed name, or even a description of the signatory such as “Your loving mother”.

The courts have considered electronic signatures on a number of occasions and have accepted electronic forms of signatures including a name typed at the bottom of an email or clicking an “I accept” tick box on a website.

These court decisions supplement the EU eIDAS regulation, which states that an electronic signature cannot be denied legal validity simply because it is electronic.

The Law Commission also identified some practical considerations which can impact upon the decision to execute documents electronically, which include:

* Concerns that electronic signatures are more susceptible to fraud than handwritten signatures, which could put vulnerable people at risk.

* Reliability and security of e-signature technology and the cross-border nature of some transactions can affect whether parties opt to use electronic or handwritten signatures.

* Whether deeds can be witnessed remotely via video witnessing. Where a signature has to be witnessed the Commission’s view is that the current law probably does allow for “remote” witnessing such as by video link.