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Electronic signatures

Electronic signatures are an efficient, reliable method of finalising modern contractual relationships. Businesses and individuals alike can benefit from learning how ‘e-signatures’ work.

The definition of an electronic signature is broader than just the digital version of a physical, written (or ‘manuscript’) signature. 

‘Electronic signature’ refers to a set of data (eg a digitally drawn version of your signature) which is attached to another set of data (eg a PDF document of a contract) for the purpose of signature (ie to form a valid contract or to make another kind of document legally binding, eg a deed). Sets of data that could form an electronic signature include: 

  • a typed name a the bottom of an email 

  • Personal Identification Numbers (PIN)

  • biometric data (eg fingerprints or face scans) 

  • clicking buttons on a website (eg a ‘submit order’ button on an e-commerce site)

  • a scanned or digitally drawn version of your regular, handwritten signature

This last kind of electronic signature - an electronic version of a traditional handwritten signature - has become widely used for common documents such as tenancy agreements and employment contracts.

Are electronic signatures legally binding?

Electronic signatures are legally recognised in England, Wales and Scotland

Using an electronic signature can replace the use of a handwritten signature in the usual process of signing and executing a contract or document for many types of documents.  As with any traditionally signed contract, signatures can become essentially meaningless if duress, undue influence, misrepresentation or any other issues invalidate the contract itself.  

As with traditional signatures, documents like simple contracts (ie contracts which don’t legally require additional requirements to be valid) do not actually need to be signed to be valid. However, signatures can attest to the importance of a contract and may provide evidence of contractual intention or acceptance of the other party’s terms if a dispute were to arise.

Electronic signatures can be used to sign most kinds of contracts and documents throughout the UK. 

Deeds

A deed (in England and Wales) is a specific type of agreement which must follow particular, enhanced formalities (ie more formalities than are required for a simple contract) in order to be executed correctly (ie to become legally binding). The required formalities vary depending on the type of deed. In Scotland, a deed is not a specific type of document as in England and Wales, but the term generally suggests a document which requires more formalities. For more information, read Execution of deeds

Deeds can be signed with an electronic signature. However, when signing a deed electronically you must be sure to meet all of the required formalities (eg those regarding witnessing, which may have to occur in person), or else the deed will not be valid. You should check that the formalities for any particular type of deed do not require it to be signed physically. For more information on signing and witnessing requirements for deeds, read Execution of deeds.

Documents that cannot be signed electronically

Types of documents which cannot be signed with an electronic signature include: 

Signing documents electronically has many benefits, including: 

  • not printing documents is efficient and reduces costs

  • documents can be sent to other parties instantly via email. The other parties can then sign and return documents just as efficiently 

  • not printing documents lessens your environmental impact 

  • electronically signed documents can often be stored and accessed securely and easily online

  • the date when an electronic signature was applied to a document can be recorded accurately using online signing platforms, which may assist if any disputes arise regarding the document

You can use Rocket Lawyer’s RocketSign® service to add electronic signatures to documents for free.