Are electronic signatures legally binding? Unravelling the legal landscape

Are electronic signatures legally binding? Unravelling the legal landscape

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In today’s digital era, the traditional methods of signing documents with pen and paper are quickly being replaced by electronic signatures.

But the question on many minds is, “are electronic signatures legally binding?” 

In this guide, we’ll delve into the legal aspects of electronic signatures, exploring what makes documents legally binding, factors that may render them invalid, and the types of documents that can be signed electronically.

What makes a document legally binding? 

The term legally binding refers to the enforceable nature of an agreement or document under the law. A legally binding document signifies that the parties involved are obligated to fulfil the terms and conditions outlined in the agreement. 

With a legally binding document in place, the legal system can intervene in the event of a dispute or non-compliance and enforce the terms of the agreement. 

But what makes a document legally binding? Typically, legally binding documents include: 

  • Offer and acceptance: One party must present a valid offer, such as a product or service, and the other party must agree to accept the offer. 
  • Consideration: Both parties receive a benefit, such as money, services, or anything of value. 
  • Mutual consent: This involves both parties understanding that they are bound by the contract and committed to fulfilling their respective obligations.
  • Legality: The contract must comply with all national laws, prohibiting the creation of contracts for illegal activities. 
  • Capacity: All involved parties must possess the legal capability to sign the contract. For example, a person’s mental capacity or ill health may render them ineligible to legally sign a contract.

What makes a document invalid? 

When creating a legally binding contract or agreement, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Lack of proper authentication: If a document lacks the necessary authentication, such as signatures or notarisation, it may be considered invalid.
  • Ambiguous or unclear terms: Documents must have clear and unambiguous terms and conditions. If the language used is unclear or open to interpretation, it can lead to the document being deemed invalid.
  • Missing essential elements: Certain essential elements, such as the names of the parties involved, a clear description of the subject matter, and relevant dates, are crucial for a document’s validity.
  • Fraud or duress: If a document is signed under duress or as a result of fraudulent activities, it may be deemed invalid. Genuine consent is essential for the legality of a document.
  • Violation of legal requirements: Documents must comply with legal requirements of the country. Creating a document for an illegal purpose or one that violates specific laws can cause it to become invalid.

Are electronic signatures legally binding?

Simply put, electronic signatures are legally binding in many areas of the world and hold up as evidence in court. 

The legal validity of electronic signatures has been established through various laws and regulations, such as the Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS) regulation in the European Union, and both the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (eSign) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) in the United States. 

Understanding eIDAS and eSign regulations

eIDAS is a set of regulations established by the European Union to create a standardised framework for electronic signatures and other digital transactions.

eIDAS distinguishes between three types of electronic signatures: Simple, Advanced, and Qualified. It provides a legal basis for considering all three types as valid, but Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES) hold a higher level of legal acceptance.

Similarly, the eSign Act is a US federal law enacted in 2000. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the use of electronic records and signatures. 

The eSign Act provides legal recognition to electronic signatures, electronic records, and contracts executed electronically. It ensures that these digital transactions have the same legal validity as their paper-based counterparts.

Electronic signature best practices

  1. Choose a Reliable Platform: Invest in a reputable and secure electronic signature platform that complies with relevant regulations and industry standards.
  2. Understand Legal Requirements: Familiarise yourself with the legal requirements for electronic signatures in your country and jurisdiction. Different regions may have varying standards.
  3. Integrate with Workflows: Integrate electronic signatures seamlessly into your existing workflows to enhance efficiency. This may involve connecting with CRM systems or other relevant tools.

Revolutionise your document processes with Signable

Looking for legally binding electronic signatures? Sign up for a 14-day free trial of Signable’s eSignature platform and experience a secure and legal solution for all your document needs.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only, and the content presented should not be considered as legal advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal advice tailored to their specific circumstances.