Permanent Legal Changes Following the Pandemic

2020 changed the world we live in, and legal processes are no exception. Whilst not all changes are as entertaining as cat filters in video-link court appearances, changes introducing electronic signing and witnessing of a range of legal documents have altered the legal landscape forever, with emergency measures introduced during COVID-19 soon to be made permanent in Victoria.

The Justice Legislation Amendment (System Enhancements and Other Matters) Bill 2021 (Vic) was recently passed in the Victorian parliament, and changes are set to take effect from 26 April 2021. The legislation cements the ability to electronically sign and witness a range of documents, including statutory declarations, affidavits, powers of attorney, wills, deeds and mortgages, allowing you to sign them from the comfort of your couch, provided certain criteria are met.

The legislation is similar to temporary emergency measures introduced at the height of the pandemic, with some modifications to improve protection against misuse. One of the most notable changes is the requirement that one of the witnesses for Wills and powers of attorney is a ‘special witness’, defined as follows:

  • An Australian legal practitioner;
  • A justice of the peace; or
  • A person who is a member of a prescribed class of person.

Some other states and territories have introduced similar laws, but all of them vary in their requirements, making it important to seek advice from someone familiar with the law relevant to the document you are signing.

Unfortunately, the temporary measures introduced during the pandemic by the Federal Government under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) allowing companies to hold meetings and sign certain documents electronically have lapsed, although there is currently a bill before parliament to make the changes permanent which will be considered by the Senate later in the year.

It is crucial to note that all of the electronic signing and witnessing requirements are prescriptive, and a simple ‘copy and paste’ of an electronic signature will not suffice.

If you have any questions regarding e-signatures, e-witnessing or digital changes you can expect from our services, please get in contact with our Legal team today.

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