Can I have legal documents signed and witnessed?
Solicitors can be authorised to sign contracts for their clients – a signed letter of authority should be scanned and sent to avoid posting potentially contaminated documents.
Solicitors should exchange supplemental agreements on behalf of their clients to agree to postpone exchange and completion dates if it has been agreed to push these back.
The Law Society advises that electronic signatures be used as much as possible for contracts, to avoid possible contamination. However, the Land Registry confirms that the legal transfer document cannot be validly executed with an electronic signature. Solicitors should agree a completion undertaking that the original transfer document will be sent when received and after the restrictions have been lifted.
The Land Registry’s latest guidance https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-impact-on-hm-land-registrys-services published on 14 May states:
We accept deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’.
For land registration purposes, a signature page will need to be signed in pen and witnessed in person (not by a video call). The signature will then need to be captured, with a scanner or a camera, to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy of the signed signature page. Each party sends a single email to their conveyancer to which is attached the final agreed copy of the document and the copy of the signed signature page.
Solicitors should be willing to adopt this procedure for completing transactions to enable them to be registered by the Land Registry.
The execution of a transfer is a deed and must be witnessed. Members of the family can witness signatures so long as they are not also a party to the document. A witness will be more credible if they are 18 or over, but this is not a legal requirement. The legal requirement is for the witness “to be present” when the document is signed. It would be possible for a witness to be on the other side of the room or the other side of a window, and validly witness the execution of a deed. The witness does need to take precautions to avoid possible contamination from the document.
A statutory declaration does not need to be witnessed but must be administered by a solicitor or commissioner for oaths. There is no legally prescribed process for this, and there is nothing to suggest that this could not be validly done via a video telephone call if the signature on the declaration can clearly be seen by the person commissioning the oath when the oath is made.