As of 27 July 2020, HM Land Registry has started to accept ‘witnessed electronic signatures’ – i.e. electronic signatures that enable an individual to sign legal documents, but which still require a witness who is present at the time to also sign the documents electronically. Guidance on how to use electronic signatures has been published by the land Registry in a new practice guidance for conveyancers .
The Land Registry hope that the new guidance will allow the providers of electronic signatures to develop new affordable and accessible tools for conveyancers to use.
Simon Hayes, Chief Executive and Chief Land Registrar said:
What we have done today is remove the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a home buying or other property transaction. This should help right now while lots of us are working at home, but it is also a keystone of a truly digital, secure and more efficient conveyancing process that we believe is well within reach. The more sophisticated qualified electronic signatures are a part of that vision and encouraging those is where our attention will be directed next. I’d like to thank everyone who responded to our consultation on the guidance. This has helped to ensure this new witnessed electronic signature process works for everyone.
Feedback from conveyancers and others in the sector was sought on the new practice, which directly informed the process to be followed and the guidance for conveyancers. The move comes shortly after HM Land Registry recently began accepting deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’, which will remain as another way of completing a deed.
HM Land Registry is already holding further discussions with the sector to explore the potential introduction of qualified electronic signatures as soon as practicable. If they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, HM Land Registry will review the continues use of witnessed electronic signatures.
Work is also being undertaken to explore whether digital identity checking technology used in other sectors can be encouraged in the conveyancing industry to increase resilience against fraud and improve the ease of buying and selling.