Video tech now allowed for witnessing docs in NSW

By Jerome Doraisamy|22 April 2020
Mark Speakman and Richard Harvey

A new temporary regulation made by NSW Governor Margaret Beazley allows for videoconferencing technology to be used in witnessing legal documents during COVID-19.

The new temporary regulation, made under s17 of the Electronic Transactions Act, will help reduce face-to-face contact for the witnessing of documents such as wills, powers of attorney and statutory declarations during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said.

“Thousands of legal documents are executed everyday in the presence of one or more witnesses, but COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for many people to do so in-person,” he said.

“Our first priority is always the safety and wellbeing of NSW residents, which is why we are changing the way these documents can be witnessed while the pandemic endures.

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“Under the new regulation, a witness must see a person signing the document in real-time to confirm the signature is legitimate, but now they can do so using videoconferencing technology.”

In a statement, Mr Speakman said that the witness will sign the document, or a copy of the document, to confirm they witnessed the signature, which can be done on a hard copy that is scanned and sent to the witness or on an identical counterpart of the document the signatory signs.

Traditional methods of signing and witnessing these documents remain valid while the regulation is in force, he added.

“These changes will make it easier for people to stay home and reduce physical interactions, while still completing important transactions. To facilitate the witnessing of NSW statutory declarations during COVID-19, the categories of people who are authorised to witness documents [have] been expanded in line with federal legislation,” the statement read.

Stakeholders including the judiciary, the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association, Justice of the Peace associations and other relevant professional bodies were consulted on the changes.

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The NSW state government will continue to consult with stakeholders, Mr Speakman concluded, about options for allowing certain documents to be signed and executed electronically.

The news follows last week’s report from Lawyers Weekly about the difficulties being faced by practitioners across the country with regards to the witnessing of documents during the pandemic.

‘Solicitors now have a practical alternative’

Law Society of NSW president Richard Harvey welcomed the passing of the regulation: “As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, many solicitors contacted the Law Society expressing concern about the difficulties that the restrictions have created for the witnessing of legal documents.”   

“I am pleased that solicitors now have a practical alternative for the witnessing of documents in the coming weeks and months,” Mr Harvey continued. 

“As the [attorney] has indicated, more work is needed to provide legally robust provisions to allow for the electronic signing of legal documents. We appreciate that the new arrangements may not be appropriate in all circumstances and we would ask solicitors to carefully consider their application.

“We will continue to work with the profession to identify and find solutions for those situations that the COVID-19 restrictions have made very challenging. We are working on this as a matter of priority.”

Video tech now allowed for witnessing docs in NSW
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