IT working party redefines 'writing'

The legal definition of “writing” and “signatures” should be broadened to include their electronic forms to cater for the increasing use of new technology, according to the Society for Computers & Law (SCL).

The recommendations appear in an SCL report, issued last week and submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry, which is based on research undertaken by a working party comprising lawyers, academics, and industry and commerce representatives.

The report looked at the main barriers in English law to the use of digital communications for business transactions.

It says hard copy is increasingly being substituted in commerce for digital information.

It argues the definition of “writing”, included in the Interpretation Act 1978, should be extended to include words, symbols and numbers.

“Writing” would then encompass holograms of text and text stored within screens. “Signatures” would include anything that identifies the signatory such as a scan of a retina or fingerprint.

The report also recommends the amendment of the Companies Act 1985 to allow the conversion into digital form of records that already exist in non-digital form.

SCL president Lord Justice Brooke said: “I hope the Government will implement the recommendations and that the report will give a lead to any European initiatives.”