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Kathryn Paisley

Partner - Uckfield

30th March 2020

Can you sign contracts without meeting face-to-face?

You may be struggling in these days of social distancing and remote working to ask your clients and customers to make their way into your workplace to sign contracts. You are not alone! But never fear: it is eminently possible for contracts to come into existence without the parties ever being in the same room as one another.

Valid forms of signature on contracts

In recent (and not so recent) times, the courts have held that the following all constitute valid forms of signature on contracts:

  • A rubber stamp (of a signature)
  • An “X”
  • A typed signature
  • A signature applied using a signature-writing machine…. and more….

Are electronic signatures valid for document signing?

Electronic signatures are valid forms of signature on a document. They can’t make a contract enforceable that wouldn’t be enforceable for any other reason, but simply the application of an electronic signature does not itself represent a barrier to the validity of contracts. What is critical is that the person signing intends to authenticate the document – so, to enter into the contract.

You could therefore consider asking your customers to use electronic signatures. There are software programs available that assist in the process and using such a program would also assist you to provide evidence of intention to enter into the agreement.

Witnessing signatures to contracts during Covid-19

Things become slightly trickier if a contract needs to be executed as a deed, so that a witness is required. Even here, it is not against any rules to use an electronic signature but the tricky part is that the witness actually needs to be present when the electronic signature is applied so that he or she can confirm that the signature has been validly applied. For practical purposes, this therefore makes electronic signatures slightly less attractive but nonetheless still acceptable – and even the witness can also use an electronic signature. There are discussions ongoing as to whether video link is an appropriate way of witnessing documents but for now that is not the case and the witness does actually have to be in the same room at the same time as the person signing.

Adding confirmatory wording to your agreements

For additional comfort if you are still concerned about electronic signatures as opposed to old-school “wet ink” signatures, you could consider inserting wording into your contracts acknowledging that both parties agree that the contract will be signed by way of electronic signature and that they agree that it will be just as valid as if signed in manuscript.

Contact us

If you have any queries on what constitutes a legally-binding signature and how to sign contracts without meeting face-to-face, please do not hesitate to contact Kathryn Paisley e. kathrynpaisley@rixandkay.co.uk ; t. 01825 744 447, or any other member of the corporate and commercial team.

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