In May 2020, McGuireWoods reported on temporary changes to the Land Registry’s requirements to make it easier to sign deeds for land registration purposes. In short, the Land Registry softened its approach to photographic copies of signed deeds. The practical benefits of the changes appeared limited, however, and, along with the UK real estate industry, McGuireWoods hoped the Land Registry would make further allowances to soften the requirements or speed up the process for general dispositionary deeds, given the difficulties in getting wet-ink signatures during lockdown.
On July 27, 2020, the Land Registry announced that, until further notice, it will accept for registration documents such as transfers, leases, mortgages or deeds of grant (dispositionary deeds) that have been electronically signed (in the case of a company) by an authorised signatory in the presence of a witness or two authorised signatories subject to and in accordance with the further requirements set out in Practice Guide 8.
The requirements summarised in Practice Guide 8 are as follows:
- All the parties agree to the use of electronic signatures and a platform (such as DocuSign) in relation to the deed.
- All the parties are represented by a conveyancer.
- A conveyancer sets up and controls the signing process and uploads the documents to the platform.
- The signing and dating process via use of the relevant platform is in accordance with the steps specified by the Land Registry. In short, the steps create an audit trail of the signing process and the conveyancer controlling the signing process will be responsible for ensuring compliance with each step. In particular, all signatories and any witnesses must be subject to two-factor authentication, and where execution is in front of a witness, the conveyancer must be satisfied that they were physically present to witness the signature.
- The conveyancer who lodges the application at the Land Registry does so by electronic means and includes with the application a PDF of the completed deed and certifies that the requirements set out in Practice Guide 8 have been satisfied.
The procedure set out above does not prohibit each party to a deed from signing by different means (e.g., one party signing in wet ink and the other providing an electronic signature).
No doubt law firms are now looking into acquiring and running such electronic signature platforms as a matter of urgency.
McGuireWoods has published additional thought leadership analyzing how companies across industries can address crucial business and legal issues related to COVID-19.