In Australia, there are various procedures and rules you must comply with to make sure your documents are legally valid. For example, before the pandemic, statutory declarations had to be signed in person by an authorised witness, such as a Justice of the Peace. During Covid, the Australian Government introduced temporary measures allowing electronic execution of Commonwealth statutory declarations. This allows you to make a Commonwealth statutory declaration by applying an electronic signature that is witnessed through an audio-visual link. These temporary measures are due to expire on 31 December 2023.
However, there are suggested reforms that are considering legislative measures to extend these electronic methods beyond pandemic times.
What is a Statutory Declaration?
A statutory declaration is a legal document that you sign and declare the information included to be true and correct, in the presence of an authorised witness, and can be used for many purposes, such as financial or health matters.
What are the proposed changes?
The digital execution of statutory declarations is currently being considered.
A consultation was opened in July 2023 by the Attorney-General’s department, to discuss amending the Statutory Declarations Act 1959 and the Statutory Declarations Regulations 2018, due to the expiry of e-signatures currently on the horizon. This consultation found that there is strong support for modernising document execution for certain documents, as physical execution is becoming outdated and time-consuming. To paint a vivid picture, over 4.5 million deeds and 3.8 million statutory declarations are executed each year by individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises. Around 9 million hours a year is currently spent printing and collecting, travelling to authorised witnesses, discussing and filling out declarations with witnesses, and submitting completed declarations.
The Paper describes how the Government is working towards a legislative framework that will allow:
- ‘Traditional paper-based execution (with written signatures and in-person witnesses),
- E-execution (with electronic signatures and an audio-visual link for witnesses),
- Digital execution (end-to-end online execution, with digital identity providers performing the role of the witness by verifying identity)’
This digital execution would integrate with the Australian Government Digital Identity System, and will use existing digital infrastructure, such as myGov.
This digital approach could save $400 million each year for businesses and individuals, as well as increase accessibility and provide multiple avenues for document execution.
With the incorporation of digital execution for statutory declarations, which expectations suggest will be widely used, the use of authorised witnesses will slowly diminish. A Justice of the Peace is one of the main categories under authorised witnesses; therefore, their role in the execution of a statutory declaration will wane, with the future initiation of a digital identity provider.
This represents major steps towards revamping our antiquated system, which has been slow on the uptake in regard to technological developments. Hopefully, this proposed reform will be onboarded before the aforementioned Covid legislation expiry, and initiate more discussion around the digitisation of our legal industry.
For more information, visit https://consultations.ag.gov.au/legal-system/modernising-document-execution/
If you need any help understanding what this means for you, please use the contact information to get in touch with one of our lawyers today.