COVID-19 Update

Electronic execution and remote witnessing of documents in Victoria

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The Victorian Government has passed legislation permanently allowing mortgage documents, deeds, wills, and powers of attorney to be executed electronically and witnessed remotely. Enabling the execution of such documents without the need to exchange hard copy documents and arranging to meet in person will provide for flexibility and efficiency of services.

The Victorian legislation makes permanent the temporary reforms under the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Electronic Signing and Witnessing) Regulations 2020, which allowed for the remote witnessing and signing of certain documents by audio visual link to adhere to social distancing, travel and public gathering restrictions introduced by the federal government as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 23 March 2021, the Justice Legislation Amendment (System Enhancements and Other Matters) Act 2021 received royal assent.

The Act provides for electronic signing and remote witnessing of legal documents in Victoria through implementing amendments to a wide range of Victorian legislation, includingthe Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000, the Oaths and Affirmations Act 2018, the Wills Act 1997 and the Powers of Attorney Act 2014.

In general, once the relevant amending provisions come into force on 26 April 2021 (being the same day the temporary regulations are due to expire), the following will be permitted:

  1. the signing of documents electronically;
  2. the witnessing of certain documents via audio visual link, so long as certain requirements are met; and
  3. the execution of deeds and mortgages using electronic communications.

A note on signing documents electronically for companies

The temporary relief granted under the Corporations (Coronavirus Economic Response) Determination (No. 3) 2020, which permitted company officers to sign documents electronically under section 127 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) expired on 22 March 2021 and has not been replaced.

The Government’s Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No.1) Bill 2021, which intended to extend the temporary relief that permitted company directors and secretaries to sign documents on separate physical or electronic copies (i.e. in counterparts), has not yet progressed through Parliament.

Accordingly, the pre-COVID-19 signing requirements under section 127 once again apply.

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