Electronic Signature Legality
Is DocuSign eSignature legal in the UK and Ireland?
Quite simply: yes, it is. England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have legally recognised electronic signatures since 2002. And, following the introduction of the eIDAS Regulations in 2016, eSignature can help you to collect electronic signatures in a safe and compliant manner.
Scotland has formally recognised electronic signatures since 2002, with the Electronic Signatures Regulations 2002, established after the passing of the EU Directive on electronic signatures in 1999.
Ireland has legally recognised eSignatures since 2000, with the Electronic Commerce Act, established after the passing of the EU Directive in 1999.
DocuSign’s solutions enable you to electronically sign while meeting the requirements of eIDAS. eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) is an EU law that oversees electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the European Union’s internal market, including electronic signature transactions. This regulation defines two types of certificate-based signatures called Advanced and Qualified electronic signatures (or AES and QES), which require identity authentication before a digital certificate is issued.
An electronic signature makes it fast, easy and simple to sign agreements and contracts. DocuSign eSignature has been used in more than one billion transactions across over 180 countries to create legally enforceable agreements.
How does DocuSign eSignature help meet legal requirements?
DocuSign eSignature has been developed to meet legal requirements by allowing organisations to:
- Verify signer identities with multiple identification options
- Choose the type of signature standard (AES, QES) for their use case
- Confirm signer intent to sign electronically
- Link signatures to signers and documents
- Protect documents with a tamper-evident seal that uses a combination of independently certified, secure system processes and PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) technology
Is DocuSign eSignature safe?
DocuSign meets some of the most stringent US, EU, and global security standards.
We take a security-first approach to e-signatures to ensure all audit trails, certificates of completion and customer documents that flow through the DocuSign Agreement Cloud stay safe, secure and unaltered before, during and after signing.
A common question people have is “Can my electronic signature be forged, misused or copied?” The reality is, wet signatures can easily be forged and tampered with, while electronic signatures have many layers of security and authentication built into them, along with court-admissible proof of transaction.
E-signatures also come with an electronic record that serves as an audit trail and proof of the transaction. The audit trail includes the history of actions taken with the document, including the details of when it was opened, viewed and signed.
Capture court-admissible evidence
With eSignature, you get a certificate of completion that provides proof of signing and witnessing by capturing key transaction information such as IP address and time stamps. This information can often help provide evidence for the transaction in the event of a legal dispute.
For more information on the safety and security of DocuSign eSignature specifically, visit the DocuSign Trust Center.
Methods of verifying signer identity securely
E-signature technology offers multiple options for verifying a signer’s identity before they can access the document and sign, including:
- Email address: signers enter their email address, which is compared to the email addressed used in the invitation
- Access code: the sender supplies a one-time passcode that signers must enter
- Phone call: signers must call a phone number and enter their name and access code
- SMS: signers must enter a one-time passcode sent via SMS text message
- ID verification: signers are verified using their government-issued photo IDs or European eID schemes
For situations where additional levels of signature validity are necessary, some providers offer two additional levels of e-signature that comply with the EU’s eIDAS requirements:
- Advanced Electronic Signature (AES): Requires a higher level of security, identity verification and authentication to establish a link to the signatory; and includes a certificate-based digital ID (X.509 PKI) issued by a trusted service provider
- Qualified Electronic Signature (QES): A QES is an even more secure version of an advanced e-signature that includes a qualified digital certificate issued by a qualified trust service provider (QTSP) via a Qualified Signature Creation Device and is deemed legally identical to a wet signature in the EU. As a qualified trust service provider (QTSP) on the EU Trust List, DocuSign offers multiple options for QES with face-to-face identity verification options.
For more information on QES, read our blog, signing around the world with digital signatures.
Electronic signatures and electronic witnessing in the UK
DocuSign eWitness is a feature of DocuSign eSignature. It allows organisations in the UK to enable signers to identify up to two witnesses to sign an agreement or deed in a simple and electronic manner.
This feature can be particularly useful when deeds need to be executed, i.e., where there is typically a legal requirement for the witness to be physically present with the signer that they’re witnessing for.
A deed is a special kind of formal document. Under English law, a deed must be used for certain kinds of legal documents such as:
- Land transfers
- Most security documents
- Powers of attorney
Deeds are commonly used for other documents such as:
- Shareholder agreements
- Share and business purchase agreements
- Loan documents
- Transfers of assets
A deed can be validly signed and witnessed using an electronic signature platform, such as DocuSign eSignature, in situations where the law allows electronic signing.
On 27th July 2020, the physical requirement to have to print and sign a paper document in a property transaction was removed as HM Land Registry (HMLR) began accepting “witnessed electronic signatures.” Following this announcement, DocuSign has been working closely with HMLR and with leading law firms in the UK in order to adapt our general eWitness capability and develop specific enhancements that align with the specific needs and requirements of conveyancers, including two-factor authentication for both the signer and the witness.
For more information, read our eBook, electronic signature and electronic witnessing in the UK.
In which countries are electronic signatures legal?
Electronic signatures are legally recognised around the world.
Agreements have been signed with DocuSign in more than 180+ countries. You can sign agreements in 44 languages and send them in 14.
For more information, see DocuSign’s Electronic Signature Legality Guide.
More on eIDAS and why it is important
eIDAS stands for Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services, and is an EU law that oversees electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the European Union’s internal market, including electronic signature transactions. It creates a predictable regulatory environment for easier cross border business.
eIDAS went into effect in 2016 and is valid across the EU. Its creation helped eliminate ambiguity around the legal value of an electronic signature in the EU, allowing electronic signatures to be admitted in court as evidence and confirming that they cannot be denied legal effect because they are in electronic form.
Overall, Brexit will have no effect on the e-signature-friendly English law of electronic signatures. The UK has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to provide legal certainty and continuity of EU laws under UK laws, including eIDAS.
For more information on Brexit, read our blog, the impact of Brexit on electronic signatures.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is for general information purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. Laws governing electronic signature may change quickly, so DocuSign cannot guarantee that all the information on this site is current or correct. Should you have specific legal questions about any of the information on this site, you should consult with a licensed attorney in your area. Last updated: April 15, 2021
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