HM Land Registry Announces Introduction Of Electronic Signatures

Mike Harlow, the Deputy Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Land Registrar, in his blog has announced that following the many questions received from customers regarding electronic signatures, as “printing, posting and scanning can be a pain”, Land Registry will soon be introducing witnessed electronic signatures.

There are two forms of signatures that HMLR will be introducing; electronic and digital signatures.

Electronic signature will replace the wet signatures, meaning a deed that was usually need to be signed and witnessed with traditional pen and ink, will instead be done electronically.

Digital signatures are a very different creature that require a more secure process, where the signatory is required to be positively identified prior to signing and the resulting document is then encrypted so that it cannot be altered. Digital signatures will also not be required to have a witness

Digital signatures have been “legally enabled” since the Land Registration Act 2002 and are recognised as Advanced Electronic Signatures and Qualified Electronic Signatures. Both are regulated by the Information Commissioner’s Office and offer more security than the simpler electronic signatures.

At the beginning of the pandemic Land Registry brought together a group of representatives in the conveyancing industry, from regulators to estate agents to discuss the issues faced by lockdown as well as what solutions could be implemented now that would help in the future. Following the discussing it was believed that “with some safeguards” Land Registry could accept both witnessed electronic signatures and Qualified Electronic Signatures.

Draft practice guidance has been released which Land Registry has asked for comment on by the 18 July. The guidance sets out the recquirments that will need to be satisfied before electronic signatures will be accepted. These draft recquirments are:

  1. All the parties agree to the use of electronic signatures
  2. All the parties have conveyancers acting for them.
  3. A conveyancer is responsible for setting up and
    controlling the signing process through the Platform.
  4. The conveyancer who lodges the application does so by electronic means and includes with the application a PDF of the completed deed. However, where the application is for first registration, a print out of the PDF, certified to be a true copy of the completed deed, can be lodged.
  5. The conveyancer lodging the application provides the following certificate: “I certify that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the requirements set out in Practice Guide 8 for the execution of deeds using electronic signatures have been satisfied.”

There are currently businesses that provide electronic signatures to other sectors and Land Registry believes they will be able to quickly meet the new criteria. Land Registry also feels that conveyancers will be able to meet the difficulties of working with paper with the help of practice changed already introduced.

The introduction of electronic signatures is not just for current circumstances. Mike Harlow stated:

“It is obvious that the more digitally advanced sectors are those that have thrived in the last few months. Conveyancing is not one of those. It has some digital components, but they need to be joined up. Achieving a long-term, sustainable and secure means of signing property transactions would be a significant component of a wholly digital conveyancing process.

“We believe Qualified Electronic Signatures are the right long-term component of that digital future. They have added security and the digital nature of the resultant document will enable joined-up and automated processing elsewhere in the transaction.

“In the next few weeks we will issue our practice note on how Qualified Electronic Signatures may be used.

“Our hope is that in the near future Qualified Electronic Signatures become more commonplace and the service providers tailor their use to conveyancing. If they do develop to be a successful option for completing property transactions, we will review the use of electronic signatures and may withdraw their acceptance, which would leave only the more secure Qualified Electronic Signatures in use.”

Mr Harlow has stated that following his previous blog post on the subject of being able to identify people securely and digitally, Land Registry had “fantastic” responses and they “look forward to supporting the industry as it develops a means of using cryptographic biometrics as another foundation of efficient, digital and secure means of conveying property”.

 

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