The NSW government will temporarily allow Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and even WhatsApp to be used for virtual witnessing of legal documents while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Amendments to the state’s Electronic Transactions Act by governor Margaret Beazley on Wednesday will allow video conferencing technology to be used to ensure witnessing continues.
The new regulation was made possible by the omnibus COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill passed last month.
Attorney general Mark Speakman said the change will ensure important legal transactions to continue to be signed during the pandemic, without the need for face-to-face contact.
“Thousands of legal documents are executed every day in the presence of one or more witnesses, but COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for many people to do so in person,” he said.
“Our first priority is always the safety and wellbeing of NSW residents, which is why we are changing the way these documents can be witnessed while the pandemic endures.”
Under the new regulation, a witness can use video conferencing platforms to see a person signing documents like wills, powers of attorney and statutory declarations in real-time to confirm legitimacy.
A witness will also be required to sign the document, or a copy of the document, that they were witnessing to confirm its validity.
However, while digital methods for witnessing are supported through video conferencing, digital signatures are not allowed when signing the document.
The government said witness signing “could be done on a hard copy that is scanned and sent to the witness or on an identical counterpart of the document the signatory signs”.
“Traditional methods of signing and witnessing these documents remain valid while the regulation is in force,” it said.
“The government will continue to consult with stakeholders about options for allowing certain documents to be signed and executed electronically.”
The government has also expanded the categories of people who are authorised to witness documents during COVID-19 in line with federal legislation.
This has been done in consultation with the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association, Justice of the Peace associations and other relevant professional bodies.