Data security Online signing Secure communications

Is signing online legally acceptable?

[An updated Docsafe article based on our original from 2020]

An e-signature is used in any situation that is facilitated by an electronic device to create an agreement between two or more parties. Basically you sign digitally, using your device, instead of with a traditional pen. It is becoming more commonplace and an increasingly acceptable form of ‘sealing the deal’ in all sectors, from finance to leisure.

Whilst most professionals will think instantly of an online contract or financial document, it covers all sorts of scenarios – from you agreeing new T&Cs on your phone upgrade to deliveries being signed for on a hand-held device. E-signatures have been around for many years and whilst everyone understands their benefits (super quick, efficient and neat), not everyone understands their legality.

Digital signatures have been legally binding for almost a quarter of a century, since 2000 – under the Electronic Communication Act. They have been permissible within Europe for even longer.

“Electronic signatures can offer quicker and easier transactions for businesses and consumers. Our report aims to provide an accessible statement of the law which makes it clear that an electronic signature can generally be used in place of a handwritten signature as long as the usual rules on signatures are met.”

Stephen Lewis, Law Commission (2019)

Wet signatures have the great advantage of being real in the sense that you can touch and see them being undertaken – whereas the e-signature exists in a world of IP addresses and actions taken between digital devices and, more recently, digital platforms. Historically e-signatures raised eyebrows and concerns in sectors slower to adopt IT advances but slowly these barriers are coming down.

It is useful to explain how an e-signature is potentially more secure. Without getting bogged down in the technical detail, the devices and networks that you use to electronically sign are offering an immense ‘weight of evidence’ to back-up the simple question of exactly who signed exactly what. Weight of evidence is a legal term used to determine whether you did or didn’t sign a document. It is vital if the signature later becomes open to dispute. The heavier the weight of evidence, the more confident the court will be to side in favour of a signature having actually been undertaken.

For this reason you will be asked to identify yourself as you either login or start the process of e-signing.

Furthermore, the software used will be tracking your actions from login to accessing the correct document to agreeing to sign the document. Some systems may even send you a final summary of your actions to cement the process and provide even more proof (and opportunity to disagree) with any actions you have agreed to by signing the document. For an electronic signature to hold up in court it must have strong and evidential security, audit logs and authentication. It must also demonstrably be able to show that the signature or document hasn’t been tampered with following signature – this can be shown through secure storage and excellent audit trails among other security measures.

In reality, e-signatures offer far more weight of evidence that wet, ‘real world’ signatures can. After all, wet signatures can be faked in all manner of ways, even if they’re independently witnessed.

A recent update to Docsafe’s own comprehensive online signing facility is the ability to use a scanned real signature or to allow the computer to generate it on your behalf – both are entirely valid.


My clients are always on the move so can they sign on a mobile phone? E-signatures can be used on most mobile phones and smart devices. All you really need is access to a functioning web browser.

Can I get a client to sign multiple times on different pages of a document? The best solutions allow you to sign the same document in any number of places as well as options to agree terms and conditions via separate tick boxes.

Can I get different people to sign the same document? Yes, multiple parties will be able to sign the same document. The more sophisticated software, often using portals, will allow the same master document to be signed rather than having to send separate copies to each person for signing. Those systems that use a master structure are client-based models whereas those rather require separate uploads for each signatory are called user-based models. 

Can I get a husband and wife to sign the same document even if they use the same email address? Yes but ideally the greatest weight of evidence is when each signatory can be identified using their own email address. The husband and wife would be required to login using the same email but sign separately with each of their names. 

Can I countersign a document in the same way as my client can? Yes, some packages offer you the ability to sign the same document as the client signs. You, as the originator, can name yourself on the document and once the client has finished signing it will prompt you to countersign before completing the process. Furthermore, the more advanced systems also allow any number of clients and countersignatures on the same document. We once came across 60+ signing off the same large report summary.

Are e-signatures accepted by everyone? E-signatures are legally no different to wet signatures in their own right but historically some people prefer a traditional wet signature – for no other reason than it is more traditional and therefore potentially a more comfortable transaction. This is changing across every professional sector.