Are electronic signatures legal in South Korea?
South Korea’s legal model is a tiered one. This means that Qualified Electronic Signatures are seen as a legal type of e-signature. This doesn’t mean that a non-QES e-Signature can’t be submitted in court, but it will need extra evidence to support it.
South Korea operates a Civil Law system, 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 than a common law system.
There are a number of provisions implied into a contract under the civil law system – this will often result in a contract being shorter than one in a common law country.
Korean law highlights that a handwritten signature isn’t always needed for a contract to be considered credible and that contracts can’t be refused for being electronic. They’ll usually be seen as such as long as legally able individuals have reached an agreement. This can be by verbally agreeing, electronically or physically signing something (Korean Civil Code). And The Digital Signature Act & the Electronic Transactions Act states that electronic contracts can’t be dismissed for being electronic.
E-signatures are governed under the Korean Electronic Signature Act (ESA). The ESA defines an “e-signature” as an electronic record that is:
Used to identify a signer and confirm the signer’s signature in a relevant electronic document.
Attached or logically associated with the electronic document.
Compared to other jurisdictions, e-signatures are broadly defined under Korean law and do not require the use of specific technical methods.
Under Article 202 of the Civil Procedure Act and Article 308 of the Criminal Procedure Act, it does state that using digital solutions are able to submit electronic records as evidence when supporting the contract.