Earlier this week, the Law Commission in the UK confirmed that electronic signatures can be used to sign formal legal contracts under English law. John Hancock is rolling over in his grave.
In England and Wales, the Law Commission is an independent legal advisor set up by Parliament to review laws and recommend reforms. The Commission has issued guidance and a summary document stating that e-signatures are just as valid as paper signatures.
Currently in Canada, certain documents and contracts still require a personal hand-written signature to be considered enforceable. A few relevant examples are wills, powers of attorney and beneficiary designations. To be clear, you can’t sign a POA with a stylus on a tablet. But signing with crayon on paper is perfectly acceptable.
An e-signature can take many forms including a typed name, clicking on “I accept”, or using a finger or stylus on a touchscreen. But don’t throw away your feather quill just yet. The Commission has also released a consultation paper on whether a new law is required to legally enshrine the validity of e-signatures. To take things another digital step further, the Commission also stated that electronic signatures could be witnessed via a webcam or video link.
Legislation is notoriously slow to embrace technology, but with this new precedent it might just be a matter of time until Canadian law follows suit. Why has it taken this long? When it comes to forged signatures, aren’t the risks the same with electronic and handwritten signatures? In a digital environment, safeguards and controls can be put in place to ensure authentication.
An important question remains: What exactly can be considered an e-signature? An email where I
sign-off with my name? How about a blog post tagged “Peter Meitanis” where I promise to buy all of the readers lunch?
Good luck enforcing that one!