Due to continual work from home arrangements and difficulties posed by travel restrictions, both federal and state governments are extending temporary laws to allow documents to be signed electronically. However, the permanent implementation of these changes are still up in the air.

Federal Amendments

In August, the Federal Parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No.1) Bill 2021, which has extended the temporary measures for electronic signing until next year.

It amends section 127 of the Corporations Act to allow for signing of a copy or counterpart of a document, meaning that signatories do not need to sign the same document, as long as each copy or counterpart of the document includes the entire contents of the document.

It also means a document does not require a “wet ink” signature, as long as an accepted method is used to identify the person signing electronically and it indicates that person’s intention in relation to the contents of the document. If a document is executed by the affixing of a common seal, the witnessing may take place via audio-visual link (e.g. Zoom).

The method used to electronically sign the document must be reliable, taking into account the circumstances and the nature of the document (programs like DocuSign or AdobeSign would likely satisfy this requirement).

These amendments are due to expire on 31 March 2022. There is not permanent legislation to allow electronic signing, however government consultations are ongoing.

Queensland Amendments

Queensland temporary measures for COVID-19 have been further extended to 30 April 2022 with the assent to the Public Health and Other Legislation (Further Extension of Expiring Provisions) Amendment Act 2021.

The State Government is now looking to make certain measures permanent with the Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Permanency) Amendment Bill 2021. If this bill passes, the changes we have seen over Covid will remain in place permanently.

This amendment extends the temporary Covid measures to allow for more flexibility when signing legal documents. These arrangements allow for electronic signing and audio-visual witnessing for documents such as affidavits, statutory declarations, general powers of attorney for businesses and deeds. As with the Federal laws, the signing will have to be done with an accepted method.

Documents that will not qualify for electronic signing include enduring powers of attorney, wills, general powers of attorney by individuals and sole traders and some Titles Office documents.

The passing of this bill will hopefully provide more clarity on which particular documents can be electronically signed and how they can be authenticated by witnesses.

While it may have taken a global pandemic to see electronic signing laws streamlined, it is a positive to see the law adapting to the times and simplifying the execution processes for businesses around the country.