A major increase in the use of electronic signing for legal documents has highlighted the need for consistency in laws across all Australian jurisdictions.
The latest data from legal technology company Dye & Durham, has revealed a jump of 500 per cent on the number of documents signed online during the pandemic**, a trend which has continued into 2022.
In mid-2020, as an emergency response to the coronavirus, the Australian Government passed temporary measures to the Corporations Act to allow for the online signing and confirmation of documents.
**Dye & Durham electronic signature transactions, percentage growth March 2019 to March 2021. GRAPH: Dye & Durham electronic signature transaction growth on March 2019 – December 2021.
While the temporary legislative measures, combined with the need to physical distance, have driven the uptake of these transactions, laws pertaining to the deeds and statutory declarations still vary from state to state.
Dye & Durham Managing Director Peter Maloney has welcomed recent announcements by the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR), stating the Council will work with states and territories to overhaul the standards required for document signature and execution.
“The digitisation of the way we sign legal documents is important to help drive efficiency in legal matters,” Mr Maloney said.
“Digital signing saves significant time for Australians, whether they are signing a contract, buying a business or selling their home.”
“The latest data is evidence of how technology is helping modernise and drive efficiency for what is a very important legal process,” Mr Maloney said.
“Digital signing is one of many recent advancements in legal technology, we have witnessed other innovations like digital Verification of Identity and electronic contracts in the property and legal sector.”
“Gone are the days where businesses are run out of a filing cabinet and agreements are scrawled on a napkin; the world has moved on. Now we are conducting business across the country and globe in a matter of minutes,” Mr Maloney said.
“Business isn’t contained by borders, so neither should the laws that govern it.”
In a recent discussion paper*, the federal government revealed that electronic execution could save small businesses an average of $35 per declaration, a total of $156 million each year for small businesses alone.
Mr Maloney said it was clear the significant benefits of electronic signing far outweighed the negatives.
“Signing online means documents are completed instantly, they are often encrypted, record key data and a copy of the original file can is provided to all parties involved,” he said.
“We estimate the figures for e-signatures will double again into the new year. The future is here; now it is time for our laws to catch up.”
Technology law partner at Gadens, Antoine Pace said consistency across all jurisdictions simply made sense.
“Right now, what we are seeing is a mish mash of laws and for the most part, temporary fixes. On a federal level recent changes, which make it easier for companies to sign online, will only remain in effect until 31 March 2022,” Mr Pace said.
“While the pandemic may not be around forever, the leaps we have taken to streamline transactions shouldn’t have to disappear,” he said.
“Lawyers and businesses are both calling out for permanent reforms. Time and money spent on printing costs and signing in-person documents can quickly add up, so why not relieve the community of an unnecessary burden?”
Dye & Durham specialises in providing legal and financial professionals with technology solutions to help facilitate property and business transactions.
*Modernising Document Execution, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2021.