Industry Working Group on eSignatures publishes final report
The final report sets out recommendations for reform
The Ministry of Justice published on 14 March the final report from the Industry Working Group on the Electronic Execution of Documents, which sets out recommendations for reform including that the Law Commission should consider reforming the law in relation to deeds and that a review should be carried out into the law of statutory declarations.
The final report also sets out best practice guidance and the challenges to the use of eSignatures, which includes challenges arising from the use of electronic signatures in cross-border transactions and how these challenges should be addressed, and the need to protect electronic signatories to deeds from potential fraud.
The UK government established the Working Group in early 2021, as recommended by the Law Commission, which had published its assessment in 2019 concluding that eSignatures were valid for the vast majority of business transactions and legal processes, but that important uncertainties remained regarding the mechanics of executing documents electronically. More specifically, the Law Commission recommended that the government establish a multi-disciplinary group of business, legal and technical experts to review the practical and technical issues associated with eSignatures, and to identify potential solutions, by producing best practice guidelines and making proposals for reform and development.
The recommendations for reform put forward in the final report include: the need for enhanced certification through the role of the ICO and a review of the National Cyber Security Centre Technical Assurance Principles initiative; the need to work towards uniformity in the approach to e-signing and online identification by way of an international standard or mutual recognition; the government to consider the wholesale adoption of eSignatures for all purposes and to investigate modernising any area where wet ink signatures are still mandated; a review by the Law Commission of the law of deeds with a view to the abolition of at least some of their current requirements; a review of the law of statutory declarations; and the establishment by the government of a standing body similar to the Industry Working Group that is able to focus solely on the relevant issues and keep abreast of new developments.
Concerning the need for a uniform international approach to eSignatures, the final report states that such a recommendation may be optimistic and aspirational, but if technologies can demonstrate the critical elements of e-signing (namely, proof of identity together with demonstration of intention to authenticate) and a set of minimum standards is established, then uniformity of approach would potentially become easier to achieve.