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National consistency essential in digital signature reforms

By Juliet Helmke
14 January 2022 | 10 minute read
digital signature 2 reb

Spurred on by the pandemic, the rapid acceptance of digital document signing technologies has been a welcome efficiency for many businesses.

But Dye & Durham, an Australia-wide tech services partner for property and finance professionals, reports that while their clients have embraced the introduction of permanent laws for digital document signing, they’re concerned about an inconsistent approach across states.

“Business isn’t contained by borders, so neither should the laws that govern it,” said Dye & Durham managing director Peter Maloney.

He noted that the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) had already taken a step in the right direction, announcing it would work with states and territories to overhaul the standards required for document signature and execution.

The Australian government passed temporary measures to the Corporations Act to allow for the online signing and confirmation of documents in mid-2020 as an emergency response to COVID-19. The measures have been extended several times, and a permanent amendment is currently in consultation.

Governments at both a state and federal level have signalled their intention to meet the business community’s plea to make e-signatures on certain documents permanent; now, the question is whether they can work together to make the new system truly efficient.

States have been introducing their own temporary and permanent legislation when it comes to using technology to carry out legal matters, but laws pertaining to the signing of deeds and statutory declarations vary from state to state.

“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.”

He noted that the company’s latest data indicated that since the start of the pandemic, there had been a 500 per cent jump in the number of documents signed online.

“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, commenting that while the benefits of digital signing far outweighed the negatives, care should still be taken to make sure the system didn’t create unnecessary hurdles.

“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.”

Antoine Pace, a technology law partner at Gadens, agreed that consistency was needed to ensure the new laws were truly paying dividends in efficiency.

“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.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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