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30 April 2020
With self-isolation and social distancing now the rule rather than the recommendation, working from home has become the norm. Although these actions have proven necessary, they also present certain logistical and administrative obstacles to companies continuing their business efficiently and effectively. Key questions in this regard are whether the directors of a Guernsey company can execute documents electronically and whether they can rely on documents executed in such a manner. This article sets out some general guidance for directors and companies facing similar issues during these unprecedented times.
When considering the validity of electronic documents and signatures, directors should primarily consider:
The Companies Law provides that a document will be executed on behalf of a company by:
Beyond this, the Companies Law remains silent on the form of signature required and thus does not expressly prohibit the signing of documents in electronic form.
Although not directly relevant to the electronic execution of documents, Schedule 3 of the Companies Law deals specifically with electronic communications to the members of a company, which directors should bear in mind when seeking to provide notices, information and documents to a company's members for approval.
As noted above, the Companies Law allows for the execution of documents on behalf of a company by such means as may be authorised by the company's articles. Therefore, when considering whether a document has been validly executed on behalf of a company based on an electronic signature, directors should also look to the articles.
It is not uncommon for articles to be silent on the subject of electronic signatures, with companies often relying on the default statutory position when adopting their articles in order to avoid making them convoluted and unnecessarily restrictive. However, it remains advisable to review a company's articles before arranging for the electronic execution of a document in order to ensure that they do not expressly prevent the use of electronic signatures. Directors should also be aware of provisions expressly requiring the execution of documents in person or requiring certain in-person signing procedures to be followed, which may include a signature being witnessed.
Where a company's articles are silent on electronic signatures, the Electronic Transactions Law will prevail. This law was introduced in order to confirm that the legal requirements of form can be met electronically and that information and documents will not be denied legal effect, validity, enforceability or admissibility solely because they are in electronic form.
The Electronic Transactions Law covers a range of matters relevant to the continuation of a company's business, most notably stating that contracts, declarations, statements, documents and signatures will not be denied legal effect, validity, enforceability or admissibility solely because they are in electronic form. Of particular importance, the Electronic Transactions Law also states that where a law (whether statutory or customary) requires a signature, seal, attestation or notarisation, such signature, seal, attestation or notarisation in electronic form will satisfy the requirements of that law.
Should a document need to be retained, the Electronic Transactions Law provides that the retention of an electronic copy of that document will also be sufficient for the purposes of the relevant law.
When arranging for the electronic signing of documents, directors should remain conscious of the fact that the provisions of the Electronic Transfers Law will not prevent a document being denied legal effect, validity, enforceability or admissibility when executed electronically for a reason other than that it is in electronic form or was done by electronic means.
Although companies are currently faced with an unprecedented level of restrictions on their directors and employees being able to interact in person, directors should take comfort from the fact that Guernsey has a robust statutory framework in place that will facilitate continued business during this time. Before arranging for the electronic execution of documents, a company's directors should:
For further information on this topic please contact Craig Cordle, Bryon Rees, James Walsh or James Dickinson at Ogier by telephone (+44 1481 721 672) or email (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Ogier website can be accessed at www.ogier.com.
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