To sign documents is often a time-consuming and frustrating business. It can take weeks to get a signature from each party on a document. This is often how it plays out:

  • one party prints two copies of a document, signs both of them with a handwritten signature and posts both copies to the other party
  • the other party signs both copies and returns one copy to the other party keeping one for themselves.

Documents get lost in the post. A person sits on the documents for weeks. Sometimes it is easier for all relevant parties to meet to sign the documents – but this takes time. If the documents are large, signing by hand can also result in very tired limbs. For persons who operate globally and require many people to sign documents with the handwritten signature, the logistics can become quite impossible.

Sign Documents Electronically Instead

To solve this problem, why not sign documents electronically using one of the electronic signature providers. Each party signs the document using their electronic signature and the document bounces between the parties until all of them have signed. The signature of the document is done in an electronic environment. It is so much quicker and easier than using paper.

Does the law allows it?

“Is signing an electronic document, in an electronic environment, with an electronic signature permissible in law?” I hear you say.

an online electronic signature in a commercial transaction is the equivalent of a handwritten signature

Short answer is yes it is, but with a qualification. For several years now electronic signature laws have facilitated the use of electronic signatures. In South Africa, the relevant law is the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act. According to that law an “electronic signature is not without legal force and effect merely on the grounds that it is in electronic form“. A document signed with an electronic signature will therefore normally be accepted as sufficient proof that the signatory agreed to the terms that are embodied in the document. Essentially, an online electronic signature in a commercial transaction is the equivalent of a handwritten signature.

An important qualification in South Africa regards electronic signatures is this. Where the signature of a person is required by law and such law does not specify the type of signature, that requirement in relation to a data message is met only if in an advanced electronic signature is used. Therefore, if the law requires a document to be signed, then an electronic signature cannot be used because it is not an “advanced electronic signature” as defined in South African law. For example, you can sign a short-term lease with an electronic signature, but not a Deed of Sale for immovable property.

Contact us if you would like our assistance to determine whether you can use an electronic signature for your specific circumstances or requirements. We can tell you whether the law requires a document to be signed and therefore an advanced electronic signature is required rather than just an electronic signature.