Guidance on Conveyancing Based Upon Witness-Free Electronic Signatures

HM Land Registry revealed that it is close publishing draft guidance for a more advanced form of electronic signature, which will not require a witness in conveyancing transactions. Witnessed electronic signatures will be around for at least the next couple of years.

Land Registry began accepting witnessed electronic signatures to execute deeds in July, removing the last strict requirement to print and sign a paper document in a property transaction. Simon Hayes, Land Registry's chief executive, stated that the company would soon be focusing on 'the more sophisticated and qualified' electronic signatures.

General counsel Mike Harlow stated last week that Land Registry is 'close to' having draft guidance for qualified electronic signatures in a blog post. These are not required to be witnessed because there is an embedded check in the process, and the output is encrypted. It also works to a regulated standard.

Harlow stated that while they believe they will be a success, their identity processes are still being developed and their use in the property market is not yet tested. They might initially be more suitable for certain types of conveyancers than others.

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"So, we will work with the sector to bring them in as an alternative as soon as possible. However, with the expectation that they'll be used alongside witnessed electronically signed documents for some time. At some point, we will review the use of witnessed electronic signatures but only after qualified electronic signatures have demonstrated their effectiveness in practice for various uses within the real estate market. This may take a while - perhaps a few years.

"In the interim, we will continue supporting the growing use of both signatures, as a cornerstone for a more resilient, digital conveyancing process."

Another way to complete a deed is the mercury approach for signatures'. This allows a signature page in pen to be signed in the presence of witnesses.