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Electronic Signatures, Execution Of Deeds & Evidence Of Identity During COVID19

June 17, 2020 | Silver Shemmings

The COVID19 crisis has illustrated that, in a crisis, Lawyers can often move with far more agility than might be expected!

Many of my clients have been asking me how they can sign a document during this period and how can their identity be verified, both for Land Registry purposes and for our own internal anti-money laundering purposes. This article sets out in brief how to deal with both of those situations.

Electronic Signatures & Scanned Completion
Generally, a Deed is required to transfer an interest in land, whether this is a Transfer of a residential property, a grant of a new Lease for a flat, or the grant of a commercial letting for some new premises.

It is crucial that those documents that will require production to, registration at and comply with the Land Registry requirements and they have issued temporary guidance. Generally, for any of the documents referred to above to be validly executed, they must be signed by the individual manually (known as a “wet ink” signature).

Before COVID-19, there were discussion papers about the electronic execution of documents particularly if all parties were not present on completion of a transaction. The form of signature involved was a scanned manuscript signature being added to the final version of the deed.

The Land Registry will now accept, for purposes of completion, what is known as a “Mercury” signature (named after a recent case). Without going into the detail, the signature page only is signed in the physical presence of a witness and the signature page is then emailed to the Solicitor.

However, clearly at present, as it is not generally possible for documents to be completed on the basis of “wet ink” signatures, most Solicitors are now happy to accept documentation that is electronically signed, scanned over to the Solicitors on the other side of a transaction and completion takes place on the basis of these scanned documents with electronic signatures.

The Solicitors then give an undertaking that they will forward the original documents (that is those with “wet ink” signatures) as soon as it is practicable or on the reopening of their offices.

In my experience, it is best to agree by email with the other side how they want to deal with completion well before the completion date, this email can be forwarded to the Land Registry if they ask for it. By adopting this two-fold procedure, we have found that transactions can be completed, often more quickly than waiting for couriers to deliver documents from wherever the clients are based.

However, some documentation does need to be manually signed and we try to organise the production of documents in sufficient time so that we can scan them over to clients, who can then sign them with a “wet ink” signature and return them to us in time for completion.

The Land Registry are accepting electronically signed documentation on the basis that “wet ink” signed documents will be available.

Verification Of Identity
Where evidence of an address is required, the client can scan in the evidence, usually a utility bill showing the client’s name and current address which is no more than three months old.

For photographic identity there are two temporary forms available from the Land Registry and a form for practitioners to complete where identity is verified by way of a video call. The Land Registry are now temporarily accepting applications where identity has been verified by someone who is not a Solicitor, generally someone who works in a profession (or is retired from that profession)  who can certify the identity documents, there is a full list of such in the Practice Note

The video call verification is relatively straightforward: the Land Registry detailed requirements are listed in a recent Practice Note. For the purposes of internal compliance, a form of verification is done by way of a WhatsApp call between Solicitor and client for example, with the client holding up his or her form of photo identity (passport or driving licence), the Solicitor making a note for the file and taking a screenshot if possible.

Generally, my experience over the past three months has been that transactions have been completed, albeit in a different way from “normal times”and we have been able to verify the client’s identity whether this has been required by lenders, the Land Registry or for our own internal purposes.

In other words, we have been able to complete the property transaction

Author Michael Shapiro has over 35 years’ experience as a commercially focused Property Lawyer working in the City of London, with a broad range of Commercial Property experience working with property companies, high net worth individuals, offshore trusts and property investors.

Michael has been interviewed by The Times about partnerships with SME businesses and how lawyers and clients should build up their relationship with each other. He is often asked to liaise with other professionals on specific projects and provide more general commercial advice to his clients

At Silver Shemmings Ash, we provide seminars and training alongside our core activities in contentious and non-contentious matters. The purpose of these is to facilitate a greater knowledge and understanding of construction and property law. There remains a considerable lack of training in such areas for companies and this is an issue which we are looking to address

Similar from Michael Shapiro:

The Impact Of COVID19 On The Property Market


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