Top 100 UK law firm, Hugh James, has completed the first property deal to utilise Qualified Electronic Signature (QES). The use of QES has been described as a “gamechanger” for property completions.

Hugh James is one of six firms taking part in a national HM Land Registry pilot, together with leading software developer, DocuSign.

The pilot, designed to test the new process, is currently only available for residential transactions; however, it is hoped a solution for commercial transactions will follow.

The pandemic accelerated the need for a digital solution for signing conveyancing documents. The digital approach streamlines the process – no witness is required as independent identity check is carried out. The process is potentially quicker, more sustainable and cheaper.

Hugh James commercial property lawyer, Richard Jones, and the firm’s specialist digital transformation manager, Nicola Evered, were present for the completion. The property transferors and transferee were also present. They were observed remotely by Michael Abraham (QES product manager), Patrick Milne (lawyer) and Andrew Gonsalves (business analyst) of HM Land Registry.

From the point of signing, it took 24 hours for the transfer of title to become legally effective – a process that would normally take six to eight weeks.

Jones commented: “It was hugely exciting to be a part of such an important event, which enabled us to discover how the process works in practice and what the experience was like from the customer’s point of view.

“There were plenty of learning points, which will be fed into the final stages of the project before being rolled out nationally. It’s a significant step forward for something that everyone in the UK will experience eventually, as we move towards self-verification of deeds like tenancy agreements, mortgage documents and business contracts.”

Evered added: “This was an opportunity we grasped immediately, and we welcome the chance to be at the forefront of such an innovative step-change for the entire industry. This has the potential to dramatically speed up transactions and make the whole process more streamlined.

“There will come a time when we’ll take a new instruction from a client, prepare the documentation, and issue the deeds for signing all in the same day. It’s exciting for us, our clients and future customers - and we look forward to continuing to support HM Land Registry with this project through to full implementation.”

Abraham said: “We were delighted to attend the first signing of a transfer using a Qualified Electronic Signature. We hope that the insights provided by this pilot scheme will lead to the development of technology and practice that results in future solutions delivering great user experiences and reduced costs, without compromising any of the assurance offered by using Qualified Electronic Signatures.”

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