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The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have forced laws to change around the world, and New Zealand is no different. These legal changes influence the way contracts, deeds and statutory declarations are witnessed online. With so many companies and workers working remotely, the government has passed laws to ensure that parties can still comply with legal requirements, such as the witnessing of key documents. 

New Zealand has a relatively tech-savvy legal regime for documentation. For example, you no longer need to be in the same room as a lawyer to comply with a legal requirement. This article will:

  • set out the basics for electronic signatures;
  • explain how contracts, deeds and statutory declarations can be witnessed remotely; and
  • how witnessing works for statutory declarations and other legal documents.

How Do Electronic Signatures Work For Contracts?

Most contracts can be signed remotely by the parties to the agreement, without any need for witnessing by another party. Usually, both parties would physically sign a particular document. However, there are two ways to do this remotely:

  1. by printing and signing the document yourself. You can then scan it to send to the other party for them to print, sign and scan. You need to keep a copy of the final document where both you and the other party have signed; or
  2. you can sign the document using an electronic signature. There are many different programs available (popular ones involve various PDF software and specialised services like DocuSign). The other party can do likewise.

When you sign a contract remotely, you need to include:

  • a “counterparts” clause; and
  • an electronic signature clause if you use one.

The counterparts clause should set out that the document may be signed by the parties, on separate pieces of paper, but that together they will be considered a single document. The electronic signature clause confirms that the parties accept that the document is to be signed with electronic signatures. 

How Can A Company Deed Be Witnessed Online?

If your company wants to enter into a deed, a director signing off on that deed will need their signature to be witnessed. Naturally, witnessing tends to take place in person. However, during COVID-19, there are ways of witnessing signatures remotely, using electronic means. 

One common example of this is to use an audio-visual link for a person to witness the signature of a director. Using a video call or similar means, the witness must be able to see the document, the person signing the document and then watch that person sign the document. The signed deed should then be sent to the witness to sign it as a witness, before then sending the document to the other party.

How Does Witnessing Online Work for Statutory Declarations, Oaths and Affirmations?

The government has passed new laws and regulations to clarify how statutory declarations can be witnessed remotely. The easiest way to witness an oath, affirmation or statutory declaration is over an audio-visual link, like a video call, as discussed above. It is important for the witness to ensure they are clear on who the person on the other end of the call actually is, and that they are looking at the same document as the witness. If the witness has never met the person they are witnessing, they should ask for a photo ID.

Not everyone has ready access to video call technology or a stable internet connection. It is possible to witness a statutory declaration, oath or affirmation over an audio link only: a phone call. If you would like to do this, note that the witness should verify the identity of the signatory prior, and may want to have the document read out over the phone to ensure that they are witnessing the correct document.

If you do not have access to a printer, but need to have a document witnessed, it is also possible to write out the statutory declaration, oath or affirmation by hand. You can then physically post or courier it to the witness. 

Key Takeaways

Contracts, deeds and statutory declarations can all be witnessed online in New Zealand. With so many New Zealanders working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the government has clarified the rules for witnessing and relaxed the requirements for physical proximity. Electronic signatures will suffice for most contracts. If your company has legal documents requiring witnesses, such as deeds and statutory documents, the most common way of remotely complying with those requirements is through an audio-visual link such as a video call. If you want to know more about witnessing documents online, feel free to call LegalVision’s contract lawyers on 0800 005 570, or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

Do we need a new clause in the contract if our company wants to sign electronically?

Yes. Specifically, you should consider a counterparts clause which specifies that the document may be signed by the parties, on separate pieces of paper, but that together they will be considered a single document. You should also include, if relevant, an electronic signature clause which states that the parties accept that the document is to be signed with electronic signatures.

Is it legal to use electronic signatures in the place of physical signatures?

Yes, New Zealand law recognises electronic signatures as legitimate as physical signatures in almost all cases.

How can my lawyer witness my signature of a document?

The easiest way is to organise a video call with your lawyer to discuss the process, ensure you both have the same document, and enable them to watch you sign the document.

How can I have a document witnessed if I do not have a printer?

If nobody else can print the document and courier it to you, you may need to write out the document (for instance, a statutory declaration) in order to then have it signed, witnessed through a video or phone call, and then sent off to the witness to sign.

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