With a large number of individuals now working from home, a question that often arises is how can documents be signed remotely, as many will not be able to sign documents in person (or in the presence of witnesses) nor have access to printing and scanning facilities.
How can we ensure that agreements are signed properly and formality requirements are met?
New technology in this area is gaining popularity and there is now greater familiarity with e-signing platforms.
Is a signature always needed for legally binding agreements (contracts)?
Except for instances where specific legislative or regulatory provisions provide for agreements to be expressed in writing, a legally binding agreement may, in theory, be created under Cyprus law, even orally.
However, in order for parties to ensure that all terms agreed are clearly set out and incorporated in the agreement, to have confidence that they can rely on the terms of an agreement and to minimise misunderstandings and miscommunications, written contracts are to be preferred.
E-Signatures in Cyprus
The question of e-signatures was addressed at an EU level with EU Regulation 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (the “Regulation”) was adopted and transposed into Cyprus with Law no.55(I)/2018.
Law no.55(I)/2018 provides, inter allia, that electronic signatures (as defined in the Regulation) may be accepted as evidence in any proceedings before an administrative body and have equal legal force with handwritten signatures. For the purposes of the Regulation, electronic signatures are defined as “data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign”.
The Regulation also includes a definition of trust services covering a wide range of electronic services, including electronic signatures, electronic time stamps and website authentication.
Despite the above, at the time of writing this article, the question of e-signatures and their admissibility and acceptance in court has yet to be considered in detail by the Cyprus courts.
Caution should thus be taken when signing documents ‘electronically’.
Other Considerations: Formality Requirements + Practical Difficulties
For most documents, electronic signatures such as a PDF, or even a photograph, of a printed and ‘wet ink’ signed execution page will be sufficient. It is also possible to sign using an electronic signing platform, where relevant links are sent by a law firm or other person with an account with a platform provider.
Nevertheless, practical difficulties still arise as certain authorities require for “wet ink” signatures. By way of example, the Land Registry Offices in Cyprus require original “wet ink” signatures, certified by a certifying officer if the signatory is present.
Applicable formality requirement should thus be considered before signing, such as requirements for signing in the presence of witnesses or a certifying officer.
Where documents must be signed in the presence of witnesses, relevant guidance may be derived from the UK’s Law Commission which in a report on the issue last year suggested that even when the signatory signs electronically, and the witness signs and completes their details electronically, the witness should be physically present when the signatory signs the document.
Where a document is intended to be used in a financing or other transaction with a banking institution, any additional requirements of that institution should also be considered before signing.