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Executing documents properly when one or more parties to a contract are not physically present is sometimes known as virtual signing or virtual closing. An electronic signature is the electronic equivalent of a handwritten signature and links a person to the contents of an electronic document.
The primary UK legislation on electronic signatures is the Electronic Communications Act 2000 (ECA 2000). Electronic signatures are broadly defined in ECA 2000 as: ‘so much of anything in electronic form as: (a) is incorporated into or otherwise logically associated with any electronic communication or electronic data, and (b) purports to be used by the individual creating it to sign’. Stavros Neocleous and Kalliroy Neocleous v Christine Rees established that a typed name at the bottom of an email can constitute an electronic signature. It is now generally accepted that typing a name at the bottom of an email can constitute a valid and admissible electronic signature. In recent years the English courts have generally taken a permissive approach to the admissibility of electronic signatures.
The Law Society released a Practice Note in July 2016 addressing use of electronic signatures from an English law perspective in a business to business context (the Law Society’s e-Signature Practice Note). That Practice Note envisaged that electronic signatures can
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