ESigning needs greater uptake in many areas of UK life to overcome administrative delays, high costs and wasted resources through supply chains, legal processes and government interactions. The Ministry of Justice convened an expert Industry Working Group on Electronic Execution of Documents and just published their Interim Report.
With the pandemic backdrop, this is expected to be a gamechanger for UK Gov and business alike.
The Law Commission Report 2019 concluded that eSignatures were legal to use in most situations, but they subsequently recognised that too many legal and commercial professionals did not have the knowledge to easily move forward with practical elements of eSigning platform selection and implementation. Given the huge economic, social and environmental benefits of electronic completion versus current paper practices or basic quality eSignatures, the Law Commission, MoJ and eSigning experts knew that more was needed to promote wider adoption and counter 'status quo' complacent thinking.
Now, both Lord Wolfson, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, and the MOJ led by Lord Justice Birss, state that “This Interim Report will help increase confidence in and encourage uptake of electronic signatures…Not just as good as the old pen and ink methods, but using the latest authentication techniques in many ways can be better and more secure... Both the legal framework and technical frameworks now exist and there is no reason to wait.”
“It needs a culture change”, particularly in the legal profession itself who too often are unaware of differences in eSigning technologies and how execution formalities and a hierarchy of evidential proofs exist to enable appropriate tools to be used for each type of use case.
The Report contains:
- Best Practice Guidelines, showing how to use eSigning in different situations
- The best forms to eSignature to use for different formalities
- What steps to follow, particularly for vulnerable individuals.
High Court Judge Peter Fraser highlights the recommendation that Government makes eSigning available for all Govt Depts internally and with its entire supply chain. “It’s well beyond time that the UK’s practices join the digital age for Electronic Execution of Documents!”
Further, the Report recommends that “UK Citizens should also be encouraged to adopt a Digital Identity” (available as a right in other EU countries) for their security and convenience, with potentially lower service costs and speed (if businesses and/or government pass on a share of digital efficiencies).
Some Departments, such as HM Land Registry, are widening their scope of acceptance of eSignatures and have a pilot scheme to accept completion of deeds electronically with UK’s first-ever property deal using Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) approved in Sept 2021.
Justice Fraser concludes “Taking initiatives like this and widespread acceptance of our guidance, we hope that in the next 1-3 years that eSignatures adoption will be the norm not the exception.”
You can watch Lord Justice Birss, Mr Justice Fraser and Professor Sarah Green discussing the report and its findings here
What needs to happen next?
1. Read the Report and discuss with process stakeholders
2. Fit eSigning style appropriate to each different use cases
3. Take steps to adopt the technologies
4. Count the benefits of e-Execution of Documents and share.
Chris Jones, Icon UK CEO, is an active contributor to the IWG’s work. Icon helps organisations to digitally transform their information handling, identity processing and eSigning operations. They have also assisted the IWG’s learning on both handwritten and cryptographic eSigning styles. Some simple reference charts for style selection have been developed and included in the Report, but technical possibilities enable almost every type of document to be legally completed.
For a limited time, Icon is offering new clients special incentives to explore new uses with a choice of eSigning consultancy and process design customisation. Ask us