Legal recognition of electronic documents can differ between countries. In the UK, legislation for electronic signatures is part of the Electronic Communications Act 2000. It is technology-neutral legislation, meaning the legality of e-signatures are is not dependent on the used technology – an electronic signature can be any data attached to or associated with an electronic document and can serve as a method for authentication. Theoretically, it’s possible to have different signatures on legal documents, however, some applications restrict that.

Legality of Electronic Signatures

Legal requirements for email signatures

There are no legal requirements for signing an email as an individual, however, there are for businesses: the Companies Act 2006 requires all business emails to contain the following information (not necessarily as an email footer, but that’s the common practice): registered name, registration number, place of registration and company address. Other kinds of contacts are not legally necessary but recommended as a best practice.

Legal requirements for electronic signatures

The legal signature requirements for digital documents (like for an electronic signature on a legal statement in pdf format) are also different considering the author – for businesses, to have the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature, the electronic signature needs to be a Qualified Electronic Signature – meaning that it allows unique identification of the signer, guarantees the integrity of the signed agreement, and created on a qualified electronic signature creation device – which can be a cloud-based trust service as well – that’s why you can sign legal documents online. There are several online services that can provide a legal electronic signature on documents, however, these kinds of trust services are usually not free, as they need to maintain the certificates to ensure the legal validity of electronic signatures. But with that in mind, creating electronic legal documents is an easily achievable task without any special technical knowledge.