The pandemic has highlighted the necessity for law reforms surrounding the use and acceptance of digital signatures on important documents, including deeds.
To alleviate some of the challenges created by the emergence of COVID-19, the government introduced temporary relief measures to permit the use of electronic signatures and audio- visual witnessing of documents. These temporary measures have demonstrated that we can utilise technology to execute documents electronically in a way that is both accessible and secure, while also maintaining a paper-based option.
On 10 February 2022, the Federal Parliament passed the Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Bill 2021 (Cth), amending the Corporations Act to allow companies to execute deeds electronically on a permanent basis. The long-awaited amendment to the Corporations Act has taken effect as of 23 February 2022, overcoming previously held uncertainties surrounding the electronic execution of deeds and remote witnessing.
In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, temporary measures that were previously in place regarding the electronic execution of deeds have now been replaced by permanent changes. These states have taken the changes a step further than their federal counterpart, allowing both companies and individuals to sign deeds electronically,
While the Corporations Act will allow the electronic execution of deeds by companies in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, there is currently no legislation in these jurisdictions that allow individuals to sign deeds electronically.
Although the changes implemented by our State and Federal governments and the subsequent convenience of digital signing will likely be welcomed by many, it is yet to be seen how the acceptance of electronically executed deeds will play out in the real world.