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One small stroke of a pen, one giant leap for legal procedure

On 22 April 2020, the NSW government enacted the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (COVID-19 Regulation), which can found here.

Anyone who under NSW law must witness signatures for the documents below, take note: the signature may now be witnessed by audio visual link.

The COVID-19 Regulation affects witnesses of those signing documents, including:

  • a will;
  • a power of attorney or an enduring power of attorney;
  • a deed or agreement;
  • an enduring guardianship appointment;
  • an affidavit including annexures or exhibits; and
  • statutory declarations.

The regulations commenced on 22 April 2020, and this brave new world is expected to last for a minimum of six months.

The essential steps are as follows:

  1. The witness and the person making the statement must have a real time “audio visual link”; and
  2. The witness must observe the person signing the document in real time; and
  3. The witness must themselves sign the document as soon as practicable after the link; and
  4. The witness must endorse the document with a statement about the method of witnessing the signature, and state that it was witnessed in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020.

The link must be audio and visual, and it must be “continuous and contemporaneous”. Video conferencing is the prime example.

A witness does not need to sign the same hard copy document. They can either (a) sign a separate counterpart, or (b) sign a scanned version of the document that they witnessed being signed. Whatever they choose, they would do well to carefully store all original copies of signed documents, and prepare a file note of the experience.

Readers should be aware that the COVID-19 Regulation does not change what actually needs to be signed and how it is to be signed. Certain documents, such as wills, have very particular requirements that still must be followed.

Nevertheless, another face-to-face process has been put on pause to keep society safe.