Are electronic signatures legal in China?
China’s legal model is an open one. This means that unlike a tiered model (that see’s Qualified Electronic Signatures as a legitimate form of e-signature), there aren’t any conditions for electronic signature types. And so a QES won’t receive legal status.
China operates under Civil Law systems which are arranged according to a plan or a system and come from Roman law. Civil law systems are based on:
- Generally a written constitution based on specific codes (e.g. civil code, codes covering corporate law, administrative law, tax law and constitutional law) preserving basic rights and duties
- There is little scope for judge-made law in civil, criminal and commercial courts (only legislative enactments are considered binding for all)
- In some civil law systems, e.g. Germany, writings of legal scholars have significant influence on the courts
- Courts specific to the underlying codes – there are therefore usually separate constitutional court, administrative court and civil court systems that opine on consistency of legislation and administrative acts with and interpret that specific code;
- Less freedom of contract – many provisions are implied into a contract by law and parties cannot contract out of certain provisions.
A civil law system is generally more prescriptive
Chinese PRC law highlights that a traditional signature isn’t always needed for a contract to be seen as credible. And that contracts are seen as valid if legally able individuals reach an agreement (this can be by agreeing verbally, electronically or by physically signing – Contract Law, E-Signature Law). And The E-Signature Law says that contracts can’t be refused for simply being electronic. However these contracts may have to be supported in court with extra evidence, under Chinese Law.