In mid-2020, the government passed temporary measures to the Corporations Act allowing online signatures and confirmation of documents, as part of its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October last year, it then introduced a bill to Parliament, seeking to make the reforms allowing digital signatures permanent.
The relief measures were initially meant to expire at the end of March 2022.
Legal technology provider Dye & Durham, which specialises in property and business transactions, recorded a 500 per cent jump in documents signed online during the pandemic, a trend it has observed continuing into 2022.
In a recent discussion paper, the government had also found electronic execution of documents could save small businesses an average of $35 per declaration, a total of around $156 million each year.
Dye & Durham managing director Peter Maloney commented the activity spurt has shown how technology is helping modernise and drive efficiency for legal processes, which will be important for businesses particularly in the property and legal sectors.
“We estimate the figures for e-signatures will double again into the new year,” he said.
“The future is here; now it is time for our laws to catch up.”
Mr Maloney added the benefits of electronic signatures far outweigh the negatives.
“Signing online means documents are completed instantly, they are often encrypted, record key data and a copy of the original file is provided to all parties involved,” he explained.
“Gone are the days where businesses are run out of a filing cabinet and agreements are scrawled on a napkin; the world has moved on. Now we are conducting business across the country and globe in a matter of minutes. Business isn’t contained by borders, so neither should the laws that govern it.”
However, laws around deeds and statutory declarations still vary from state to state – with the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) reporting in September that it would work with states and territories to overhaul the standards required for document signature and execution.
Antoine Pace, technology law partner at legal firm Gadens added consistency across all jurisdictions makes sense.
“Right now, what we are seeing is a mish mash of laws and for the most part, temporary fixes,” he said.
“Lawyers and businesses are both calling out for permanent reforms. Time and money spend on printing costs and signing in-person documents can quickly add up, so why not relieve the community of an unnecessary burden?”
In November, the NSWParliament passed laws making temporary relief that allowed legal documents to be witnessed over video calls permanent.