It’s currently summer holiday season, which is good news for all concerned unless you are a poor property lawyer trying to get a contract signed for an urgent exchange. Client signatories? Well they are on the beach somewhere, we think…
In the past it has been a rite of passage for trainee property solicitors to be despatched across the country to track down a Chief Executive for an urgent signature. Your author recalls phoning a client only to be told he was on the roof of Buckingham Palace organising the pyrotechnics for the Queen’s Jubilee. “If you can’t bluff your way in(!) then wait by the Victoria Memorial and I’ll be down as soon as I can.”
All this may change however, thanks to new guidance on e-signatures that has been developed by the Law Society with the help of a leading QC.
The new guidance note which can be found here sets out that:
- e-signatures can take various forms e.g. cutting and pasting an image of your signature on to a soft copy document or signing a soft copy document using a stylus or e-pen.
- a contract executed using an electronic signature satisfies a statutory requirement to be in writing (as all contracts for the sale of land must be) and signed under hand.
- a signature will be valid if the mark is inserted in a document with the intention of giving authenticity to it. There is no reason an e-signature inserted in the appropriate place (ie. the execution block of your contract) cannot satisfy this requirement.
The note goes on to consider a number of other issues such as different types of documents (contracts, deeds, etc) and corporate capacity to use e-signatures (in essence, this will be the same as a traditional wet ink signature unless the company’s constitutional documents state otherwise) but the main thrust is in support of e-signatures.
The note, while not legal advice, represents the Law Society’s view of good practice and is likely to be widely relied on by the legal profession going forward.
Two words of caution:
- it is inevitable that the Courts will be asked to consider e-signatures again in the future and so for the time being we expect preference will remain for wet-ink signatures where possible
- certain bodies, notably the Land Registry, still require wet ink signatures for certain documents submitted to them. While we expect the Land Registry will in due course adopt e-signatures, do check with us if you are considering using an e-signature for a Land Registry document.
That said, this heavyweight support for e-signatures should make life easier for all concerned. Particularly harassed trainees waiting on standby as completion deadlines loom.