Society seeks measures to enable remote signing and witnessing of documents

The Society is currently consulting Members with respect to the types of requirements relating to documents which need to altered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Society has written to the Attorney seeking regulations to provide for the electronic witnessing of documents. This would enable documents such as wills, powers of attorney, deeds, and affidavits to be witnessed using audio-visual link. The Society has also written to the Chief Justice seeking arrangements to be put in place with respect to the signing of court documents, as has been done in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. 

UPDATEThe Attorney-General (SA) advised the Society in a letter dated 29 April that regulations will not be made at this time that allow the electronic attestation or witnessing of documents, the decision being on the basis that documents can currently be witnessed in a safe and physically distant manner whilst still complying with the law as it is currently.
Members remain understandably concerned that face-to-face contact with clients in order to arrange for the signing and/or witnessing of documents, appears to be inconsistent with the current recommendations around social distancing, and may put both clients and practitioners at risk. The Society will continue to advocate for measures that allow for the continuing provision of legal services to the public in a safe and efficient manner. 

"The Society recommended adopting regulations for legal documents to be signed via audio-visual technology as it would allow practitioners to deliver important legal services to the public while following official advice to observe social distancing in order to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Law Society President Tim White.

 "Lawyers have noticed an increase in enquiries about legal documents such as wills, powers of attorney, and advance care directives during this uncertain time, but a number of people - particular those in vulnerable circumstances - are understandably reluctant to sign and attest documents in person and risk exposure to the virus."

 "The Society has also sought measures to allow for court documents, such as affidavits, to be signed electronically rather than requiring a physical signature, with appropriate procedures to ensure the veracity of the documents."

 "NSW has already made such regulations, while Queensland and Victoria are also expected to introduce similar regulations shortly."

 "These are extraordinary times that require novel solutions. We believe that interim measures could be adopted to allow for remote signing, with integrity safeguards in place that attest to the authenticity of legal documents."

 "While law firms have made arrangements to accommodate face to face witnessing where it is safe to do so, there are a number of situations where face to face contact would not be appropriate in the current climate, and it is most unfortunate that there are people who can not have their instructions or statements validated, particularly if they are urgent."

Read the Society’s letter to the Attorney: Requirements regarding the witnessing of documents during COVID-19
Letter to the Chief Justice: Measures in response to COVID-19 – requirements around documents