Industry Working Group on e-signatures Interim Report
On 1 February 2022, the expert Industry Working Group on Electronic Execution of Documents published their interim report, which sets out their analysis of the current state of e-signatures in England and Wales. This report details how individuals and businesses can and should safely use electronic signatures because - as noted by Lord Justice Birss - ‘there is no need for old fashioned pen and ink’.
Professor Sarah Green, Law Commissioner for Commercial and Common Law and Co-Chair of the group, says, "The Interim Report of the Industry Working Group on Electronic Signatures concluded that Qualified Electronic Signatures, particularly if underpinned by a regulated digital identities trust framework, are capable of fulfilling the same objectives as physical witnessing and attestation. This has significant implications for the ability of parties to execute documents in an entirely automated way, and on a fully electronic basis." The Industry Working Group will assist in informing the future use and uptake of e-signatures by the government and others.
Entirely Automated Electronic Signatures to become the Norm
The group is hoping that this guidance will enable an uptake across the government and the whole of society because they believe that electronic signatures are better and more secure than traditional methods and should be the norm rather than the exception. The group recommended that the Government make electronic signing available for all official documents, including its own contracts with suppliers and government departments. The report cites HM Land Registry's practice guide on the execution of deeds and the Ministry of Justice's lasting powers of attorney project as good examples of government encouragement. According to Lord Justice Birss, “There’s every reason to adopt these methods now. Both the legal framework and the technical framework already exists - and there’s no reason to wait” Read the full report, where Mr Justice Fraser notes that electronic signature “revolutionises the speed and efficiency of executing transactions”.
The electronic execution technology now available is able to reduce friction in the signature process and, ultimately, increase convenience to users. While the use of such technologies will undoubtedly require some behavioural and organisational changes, it ultimately offers considerable advantages over wet ink alternatives, not least the audit trail capabilities and evidential superiority it can offer.
DocuSign Supports Electronic and Digital Signatures in Conveyancing
HM Land Registry supports electronic signatures, and DocuSign has been supporting the conveyancing industry with electronic and digital signatures. In 2020, HM Land Registry (HMLR) began accepting electronic signing, including third-party electronic witnessing, referred to by the HMLR as Conveyancer-certified Electronic Signature, or Witnessed Electronic Signatures (WES). DocuSign eWitness can be used for fast and secure Witness Electronic Signatures.
HMLR also has been evaluating enhanced electronic signatures, specifically called Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES), as a more secure electronic signing solution in digitising the conveyance process. In 2021, Top 100 Law Firm Hugh James took part in the first-ever property deal using DocuSign Qualified Electronic Signature. The DocuSign and HMLR pilot-tested residential transactions using QES. Discover more about Qualified Electronic Signatures and the benefits they offer.