By Mark Shepherd and Stephen Dawson
The Law Commission has published its provisional findings on the validity of electronic signatures and has outlined potential options for reform.
In January 2018, following concerns over a lack of clarity in the law, the Law Commission launched a project to address uncertainties as to the formalities around electronic execution of documents. It was acknowledged that the uncertainty in the law, alongside practical issues such as security and reliability, was discouraging the use of electronic signatures while recognising that there is a growing demand for an effective and acceptable method of using electronic signatures on legal documents.
The Law Commission was asked by the Ministry of Justice to consider the problems surrounding the law in relation to electronic signatures and to consider whether, and if so what, legislative reform or other measures are needed to address those issues. The project was given a wide scope, covering documents which are required by law to be ‘signed’ and documents which are required by law to be executed as deeds. However, it did not extend to wills (which are the subject of a separate Law Commission project) or documents relating to the registration of land (which is being dealt with by the Land Registry’s project on electronic conveyancing and registration). In addition, there are some limited statutory requirements for ‘handwritten’ signatures which are also outside the scope of the project.