Are Electronic Signatures Legal in the UK?
Yes. Here’s what makes them legal, admissible, and enforceable.
Electronic signatures aren’t new. Millions of people around the world rely on e-signatures to sign documents electronically every day. But, are they legally binding?
The answer will differ country to country, but in the United Kingdom, e-signatures are legal, admissible, and enforceable in a court of law. Many people think that e-signatures are simply a digital image of a handwritten signature, but that’s not the case. An electronic signature demonstrates an individual’s intent to agree to the terms and conditions in a document and creates a binding and enforceable agreement.
Electronic Signature Law in the UK
The legal requirements and admissibility of e-signatures has not changed during the coronavirus pandemic, but “work from home” orders and physical distancing requirements have made traditional paper-and-ink signatures difficult to obtain. As a result, businesses and governments in the UK (as in many other countries around the world) have increasingly embraced e-signatures to transact digitally.
The main piece of the UK law from Parliament was the Electronic Communications Act of 2000, but it was replaced by eIDAS in July 2016 for all EU member states. Though no longer part of the European Union, the UK government has incorporated eIDAS rules into UK law, which recognizes eIDAS as the general legal framework for electronic signatures as well as electronic identification and trust services.
There are three forms of e-signature recognized by eIDAS: Simple, Advanced, and Qualified. Simple e-signatures have the least signer ID proofing requirements, while qualified e-signatures (QES) have the highest and are the legal equivalent of a handwritten wet-ink signature. The advanced electronic signature is the most commonly used signature type and includes higher proofing requirements than the Simple signature. Different types of use cases and transactions require different types of e-signatures.
While most documents can be electronically signed in the UK, wills and other documents requiring witness attestations (e.g., deeds, land registry documents, revenue and customs documents, family law documents, and corporate accounts) are exceptions and must be “wet” signed.
What About the Use of Qualified E-Signatures in the UK?
In the UK, personal digital certificates (often referred to as “qualified certificates”) are largely unused, because there is no practical way to access and apply them. They are more common in EU countries where there is a national eID scheme, for example in Spain and Italy. These eIDs become a qualified certificate and provide a way for Qualified E-Signatures to be rolled out and adopted. While the QES has the status of handwritten signatures, there are no documents that require use of Qualified Electronic Signatures in the UK.
Key Considerations for Signing Electronic Documents in the UK
Electronic signatures cover the full range of technologies that enable businesses to sign documents electronically, including workflow management, digital signatures, audit trails, identity verification, and electronic notarization.
Be sure your e-signature provider:
- Automatically generates and captures every signing event in a vendor-independent audit trail that provides reliable proof in the event of an audit or legal case;
- Uses a digital signature to securely associate the signer to the e-signed document. This association cannot be broken or copied to another document;
- Provides multiple authentication approaches to identify and attribute the electronic signature to the signatory; and
- Supports a broad range of local- and server-side digital certificates that adhere to global standards (e.g., X.509 PKI).
OneSpan Sign is designed to meet the e-signature requirements in countries, like the UK, that have enacted e-sign laws and regulations. Our solution can help your business comply with eIDAS as well as other e-signature regulations including the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), and other national laws. Your employees and customers can embrace e-signatures that are legally binding, admissible, and enforceable – both in the UK and abroad.
To help organizations manage their compliance risk, we’ve developed an online e-signature legality guide in partnership with a multinational law firm to highlight select e-signature laws and regulations and clarify some of the common misconceptions about the legality of electronic signatures around the world.
For further information about the legal effectiveness of e-signatures and digital signatures in a given country, consult your legal counsel.
*DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this page is for information purposes only, provided as is as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice or to determine how the law applies to your business or organization. It is recommended that you seek guidance from your legal counsel with regard to law applying specifically to your business or organization and how to ensure compliance. OneSpan does not accept liability for the contents of these materials or for third parties materials.