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Signing documents during COVID-19

18 March 2020. Published by Neil Brown, Partner and Jenny Tran, Senior Associate

This blog gives some practical advice on how to sign documents during the Covid-19 restrictions, including where signatories and others are working from home without access to usual printing and scanning facilities.

Are electronic signatures legally binding?

Yes.  

How do I get electronic signatures without access to a printer or PDF machine?

Traditionally, "electronic signature" has meant a physical wet-ink signature which is scanned in to PDF, and then sent by email.  That approach may not be possible during the current period of government advised working from home. 

In recent years, electronic signature platforms such as PandaDoc, DocuSign, Adobe Sign and HelloSign have offered an alternative solution.  These applications enable documents to be sent to signatories and signed by that signatory merely clicking on the relevant boxes.  Printers and scanners are not needed.  Law Commission guidance, published on 4 September 2019, indicates that such signatures will be recognised as valid.

What if I have a deed which needs witnessed?

The witnessing of documents (such as deeds) can also be done electronically.  Platforms such as DocuSign allow for this also.

However, a witness will need to be physically present with the signatory when he or she attaches their signature.  Unfortunately, video link will not (for the time being at least) count as being physically present for these purposes – although this is under review.  Best practice has always suggested that a witness should be independent of a signatory – however, that is not a legal requirement.  Therefore, in times of self-isolation and restricted movement, it should be possible for family members or cohabitees to act as witness.