Can certified copies of documents be sent/received by email? Is a certified copy of a document sent/received by email a 'true copy'?

Can certified copies of documents be sent/received by email? Is a certified copy of a document sent/received by email a 'true copy'?

A certified copy is an accurate, complete and current copy (usually a photocopy) of an original document. The certified copy will include a statement that it is a true copy of the original as at the date certified. It does not certify that the original document is genuine, only that it is a true copy of the original.

There are numerous reasons for obtaining a certified copy of a document in the context of commercial transactions. For examples, see Practice Note: Certified copy requirements in commercial transactions.

A certified copy may be adduced in evidence provided that it has been authenticated appropriately (see section 1 of the Evidence Act 1845).

There does not seem to be any authority which confirms whether a certified copy in digital format (required for it to be sent or received via email) would satisfy such statutory requirements but see Q&A: Where no original can be located, what is the status of a PDF copy of an original agreement for evidential purposes in the context of litigation?

As a matter of best practice, when asked to submit a copy document, it is advisable to check with the body requiring a certified copy as to the form of words required and the acceptable format of the certified copy.

For example, in its 2019 report on the Electronic Execution of Documents, the Law Commission surveyed a number of bodies requiring registration of transactional documents to understand their requirements in the context of the electronic execution. At paragraph 2.65 of their report they say:

‘Companies House has told us that they operate an online filing service which allows most forms, notices and statements to be both signed and delivered to Companies House electronically. Where a copy of a document needs to be filed at Companies House, for example a document creating a charge over a company’s assets, Companies House require a certified copy of the relevant document to be provided. If the document creating the charge has been executed using only electronic signatures, a PDF copy of that document or deed can be uploaded and the person making the filing can certify that it is a correct copy of the original without the need for a wet ink signature. A copy of the charge certificate is then emailed to the person who registered the charge.’

HM Land Registry has accepted certified copies of documents in support of applications to change the register since 30 June 2014 and in support of applications for first registration since 28 November 2016.

Certified copies are defined in Land Registration Rules 2003, SI 2003/1417, r 217 as ‘a copy of a document which a conveyancer, or such other person as the registrar may permit, has certified on its face to be a true copy of the original and endorsed with his name and address’ and more specific guidance is provided in HM Land Registry’s practice guides as to the various forms of certificate which can be given.

Conveyancers submitting certified copies to HM Land Registry will need to consider which form of certificate is appropriate for them to give, see for example, HM Land Registry Practice Guide 1: First registrations: section 4.4.4.1.

Most recently HM Land Registry has produced Practice Guide 80: Coronavirus (Covid-19): useful information for conveyancers which deals with certified copies at section 2.6. However this guidance does not directly address the question of relying on a digital copy of an original document save in the context of deeds which have been executed in accordance with the new requirements for execution of deeds by electronic means or using Mercury signatures.

For further details see:

• Practice Note: Certified copy requirements in commercial transactions

• Commentary: Certified copies: Halsbury's Laws of England [945]

• Q&As:

◦ Do you have any guidance on certification by solicitors of documents that are only available, and only exist, online or in electronic form?

◦ Where no original can be located, what is the status of a PDF copy of an original agreement for evidential purposes in the context of litigation?

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