Electronic signatures in legal proceedings

By the time they opt to contract electronic signature services, entrepreneurs come across several questions. The most common is whether a document signed with electronic signatures in legal proceedings is a valid form of evidence and how it should be submitted. The following post provides all the details for you to find out the benefits of electronic signatures, avoid making mistakes, and ensure that your electronically signed document is fully effective as evidence in legal proceedings.

Is valid an electronic signature in legal proceedings?

Yes, since several regulations grant qualified electronic signatures the same validity as handwritten signatures and advanced electronic signatures for legal purposes.

At the European level, Article 25 of the eIDAS Regulation states the following:

Article 25: Legal validity of electronic signatures

  1. An electronic signature shall not be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the grounds that it is in an electronic signature or that it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures.
  2. A qualified electronic signature will have the same effects as a handwritten signature.
  3. A qualified electronic signature based on a qualified certificate issued for one Member State will be recognised as a qualified electronic signature in all other member states.

How to submit an electronic signature in legal proceedings?

Submitting an electronic signature in legal proceedings, several aspects need to be considered:

  • On the one hand, the electronically signed document is digital, so it must be printed or provided in digital format; on the other hand, the digital documentary evidence that is generated with all the data of the signature process is also digital, and the same applies, it will be necessary to consider whether it is submitted on a hard copy or a pen drive. At all events, the original is always the electronic document.
  • Documents supporting evidence in the court proceedings are attached as annexes.
  • How evidence is submitted in court may vary from one country to another and even from one court to another within the same country, depending on several aspects:
  • Digital means being used by the court. There are countries where claims and other procedural documents can be filed through digital platforms, and, in these cases, the filing of an electronically signed document is more straightforward.
  • Judges’ knowledge and training on such evidence. In countries where electronic platforms are used to submit claims, judges are generally more familiar with seeing and using electronic signatures.
  • Procedural regulation of electronic signature evidence. We should highlight the following in this regard:
  • Spanish Civil procedural legislation (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil – LEC) makes all documents effective as evidence in court, whether physical or electronic format, but their validity as evidence depends on the judge’s sound judgement.
  • The LEC also establishes in Article 326.3 as follows: ‘Where the party in whose interest the effectiveness of an electronic document is sought or its authenticity, integrity, date and time accuracy or other characteristics of the electronic document are challenged by a non-qualified trusted electronic service provided for in Regulation (EU) 910/2014 of the European Parliament (…), proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 2 of this Article and Regulation (EU) No 910/2014.

The second paragraph of the Article mentioned above provides that if one party submits an electronic document and the other party disputes its authenticity, an official handwriting verification or other means of proof of authenticity must be requested.

Judicial IT expert assistance in court proceedings

As a result, if you submit a contract signed with an electronic signature in court proceedings, for example, and the other party does not recognise its authenticity, you can request an IT legal expert’s report.

The expert report must prove beyond doubt:

  • The identity of the persons signing the document.
  • The date and time of signature.
  • The email addresses or mobile phone numbers involved.
  • The document signed.
  • The integrity of the signed document, i.e. that it has not been tampered with or forged.

If you do not provide additional evidence (expert report) to prove the authenticity of the signature, the value of the evidence will depend on what the judge considers based on the documents provided and the evidence at trial.

In short, the electronic signature is valid as evidence in legal proceedings, but it may be impugned, which means that additional evidence, such as an expert report, will have to be provided.

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