In an aim to improve trust in EU-wide electronic transactions and to increase the effectiveness of public and private online services and e-commerce, Regulation (EU) N 910/2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (the “eIDAS Regulation”) created a new system for secure electronic interactions across the EU between businesses, citizens and public authorities, setting out the conditions under which Member States recognize electronic identification means of natural and legal persons falling under a notified electronic identification scheme of another Member State, rules for trust services (for the verification of the identity of individuals and businesses online, as well as authenticity of documents) and establishing a legal framework for electronic signatures, seals, time stamps, documents, registered delivery services and certificate services for website authentication.
This Article focuses on electronic signatures, whose use has been highlighted following the COVID-19 pandemic and the relevant health protocols and travel restrictions, and their validity and admissibility in evidence in the Republic of Cyprus.
The eIDAS Regulation has been incorporated into Cyprus law in 2018 through Law 55(I)/2018 (the “Law”).
Article 3 of the eIDAS Regulation distinguishes three types of electronic signatures, namely:
- An electronic signature, which is defined as data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign;
- An advanced electronic signature, defined as an electronic signature which is uniquely linked to the signatory, is capable of identifying the signatory, is created by using electronic signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under its own control and is linked to the data therewith in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable; and
- A qualified electronic signature, an advanced electronic signature created by a qualified electronic signature creation device and which is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures.
The Law provides that electronic signatures within the definition of Article 3 of the eIDAS Regulation, that may be in electronic form, or may not satisfy all the requirements of a qualified electronic signature, is admissible in evidence, subject to law on evidence, in both criminal proceedings and civil proceedings before the Cyprus courts. The law further provides that such signatures are also admissible in evidence in procedures before any administrative body. Notwithstanding the aforementioned, the Law (in line with the eIDAS Regulation) distinguishes the legal effect of a qualified electronic signature from that of a standard or advanced electronic signature, providing that qualified electronic signature has equal legal effect as the handwritten signature. Finally, the Law provides that, notwithstanding anything provided in legislation, the signing requirement in procedures before any administrative body is satisfied with a qualified electronic signature.
And, as the Law does not specifically exclude specific certain types of documents (though care should be taken in adhering to certain particular requirements/formalities that may be required in respect of particular types of documents under applicable laws - such as requirement of witnessing in rental agreements with a period exceeding 12 months- as well as in respect of e-signing documents governed by the laws of other Member States, whose relevant legislation may specifically exclude certain types- mostly wills, powers of attorney, declarations under oath etc.), we trust that a noticeable increase in the use of electronic signatures shall be observed in a – hopefully fruitful- effort for uninterrupted continuation of business activities and commercial transactions.
For further information on the subject please contact Antonis Paschalides & Co LLC.