Ministry of Justice issues final report on electronic execution

March 16, 2023

The Industry Working Group on Electronic Execution of Documents has published its final report, which considers the challenges arising from the use of electronic signatures in cross-border transactions and how best to use electronic signatures to optimise their benefits when set against the risk of fraud. It sets out the Group’s further recommendations for reform.

The Report’s main recommendations for reform, or work towards reform, are as follows:

  • Enhanced certification through the role of the ICO and a review of the National Cyber Security Centre Technical Assurance Principles initiative.
  • Self-certification involving ICO/Department of Science, Innovation and Technology or another government body working as a moderator that:

develops a set of signing platform ‘basic performance standards’

publishes the standards on a ‘dedicated/go-to’ webpage that is easily locatable for prospective platform users;

invites signing platforms to confirm whether they meet the standards;

publishes a list of signing platforms that submit self-certification on a go-to webpage;

confirms listings annually.

  • Work towards uniformity of approach to e-signing and online identification by way of an international standard or mutual recognition. The Group recommends that the UK consider adopting the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Signatures, at least in some form. It says that Article 12 of the Model Law is particularly instructive on the point of cross-jurisdictional recognition, and UK movement on this point, given its significance as an international commercial hub, would send a strong signal, and perhaps act as an incentive, to other jurisdictions
  • UK government consideration of wholesale adoption of e-signatures for all purposes, and investigation into modernising any area where wet ink signatures are mandated.
  • Review by the Law Commission of the law of deeds with a view to the abolition of at least some of their current requirements.
  • Removal of the requirement for a third party to be involved in making a statutory declaration and allow declarations to be made wholly electronically in a straightforward manner and without risk of invalidity.
  • The establishment by the UK government, or a suitable Department, of a standing body similar to the Industry Working Group, comprising both legal, industry and academic membership that is able to focus solely on these issues and to keep abreast of developments as they occur.

For background, see here and here.