15/12/21

What are the Laws on Electronic Signatures in the UK?

As we move towards an increasingly digital world, electronic signatures have become widely used and needed. We have made a useful, short guide in relation to the laws on electronic signatures.

Electronics Signatures in Contracts

The law has been flexible with electronic signatures with regards to contracts. Recently in 2019, the government confirmed that no formal statute is needed to reinforce the legal validity of electronic signatures.

Here are a few formats expressly accepted in law by the courts:

  1. A digital drawing of a signature
  2. An image of a signature
  3. Signing with an “X”
  4. Signing with your initials
  5. A printed name
  6. A description of the signatory if his/her/their identity is sufficiently clear eg. “Your loving mother”, “Personal Assistant to Ms Smith”

It is good practice to ensure a print name is shown with an electronic signature.

While there are multiple legally effective methods to electronically sign contracts, parties should consider that their evidential weight may vary. For instance, signing with “X” is more likely to be challenged than a digital drawing of a signature with the signatory’s print name. Additionally, parties may find it helpful to collect and retain information that add evidential weight to the signature, such as the email address used by the signatory and any separate email confirmations given.

Electronic Signatures in Court Documents

Electronic signatures will also suffice for most court documents, which include but are not limited to claim forms, particulars of claim, defences, replies to defence, court applications, and even witness statements.

Here are a few formats expressly accepted in law by the courts:

  1. A digital drawing of a signature
  2. An image of a signature
  3. A tick box next to a statement of truth
  4. A printed name

Again, it is good practice to ensure a print name is shown with an electronic signature.

Extras

Here is a list of useful things to bear in mind as well:

  1. For documents that require witnesses, the physical presence of witnesses remains required, but given social distancing rules, the Law Society has stated looking through a window would suffice. Indeed, we may have more certainty regarding witnesses soon, as the Ministry of Justice has announced that an industry working group will aim to produce a report by the end of 2021.
  2. Variations in contracts usually need to be in writing and signed by the parties. The courts have held that exchange of emails was “in writing” and the printed name on top of an email along with a signed first name was a “signature”. Still, we would recommend variations to be completed in a document for added certainty.
  3. For those using 3rd party platforms such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign to execute signatures, it is good practice to confirm to all parties that the original contract is the attachment shared via the signing platform.
  4. Certain commercial documents still require original “wet-ink” signatures. For example, UK Companies House does not always accept electronic signatures.

We trust that this summary has been helpful to you. If you require further guidance or assistance in relation to your contracts and/or court documents, please get in touch with a member of the Corporate or Litigation Team.

 

15/12/21