Law reform is key to digital Australia

Lawyers and business owners are calling for consistent and permanent reforms across Australian jurisdictions as the digital signing of documents becomes a mainstay of business.

The latest data from legal technology firm Dye & Durham revealed a 500% jump in the number of documents signed online during the pandemic, a trend that has continued into 2022.

In mid-2020, in emergency response to the coronavirus, the Australian Government passed temporary measures to the Companies Act to allow online signing and confirmation of documents.

While temporary legislative measures, combined with the need for physical distancing, have pushed for the adoption of these transactions, laws relating to deeds and statutory declarations still vary from state to state.

Dye & Durham managing director Peter Maloney welcomed recent announcements from the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR), saying the Council will work with states and territories to revise the standards required for signing and executing documents.

“Digitizing the way we sign legal documents is important to help make legal business more efficient,” Maloney said.

“Digital signing is a huge time saver for Australians, whether they’re signing a contract, buying a business or selling their home.

“The latest data shows how technology is helping to modernize and improve the efficiency of what is a very important legal process,” Maloney said.

“The digital signature is one of many recent advances in legal technology, we have witnessed other innovations such as digital identity verification and electronic contracts in the real estate and legal sector.

“Gone are the days when companies ran out of filing cabinets and agreements were scribbled on a napkin; the world has evolved. Now we conduct business across the country and around the world in minutes,” Mr. Maloney said.

“Business is not limited by borders, nor are the laws that govern it.”

In a recent working paper, the federal government revealed that e-enforcement could save small businesses an average of $35 per return, which equates to a total of $156 million per year for small businesses alone. .

Mr Maloney said it was clear that the significant advantages of electronic signing far outweighed the disadvantages.

“Signing online means documents are completed instantly, they are often encrypted, save key data, and a copy of the original file can be provided to all parties involved,” he said.

“We estimate that e-signature numbers will double again in the new year. The future is here; now is the time for our laws to catch up.

Antoine Pace, a technology law partner at Australian law firm Gadens, said consistency across jurisdictions just made sense.

“Right now, what we see is a hodgepodge of laws and, for the most part, temporary solutions. At the federal level, recent changes, which make it easier for businesses to sign online, will only remain in effect until March 31, 2022,” Pace said.

“While the pandemic won’t last forever, the strides we’ve made in streamlining transactions shouldn’t go away,” he said.

“Lawyers and businesses are calling for permanent reforms. The time and money spent on printing costs and signing documents in person can quickly add up, so why not relieve the community of an unnecessary burden? “

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