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Witnessing signatures

24 November 2022

Do I still need someone to witness my signature? Seems a bit old fashioned these days!

Not every document requires a witness, but some do. A witness is the person who watches you sign the document and if needed can confirm that it was indeed you signing the document and you did so without coercion if questioned.

When is a witness required?

The need for a witness is determined by the type of document being signed. Deeds and Wills both require witnesses to be properly executed. Sometimes, documents may need more than one witness to be valid. 

In most cases witnesses don’t need to have a particular title or status however this is sometimes the case. In some instances, a witness needs to be an “authorised witness” such as a JP or legal practitioner.  Generally, witnesses must be over 18 years of age, of sound mind, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not be party to the document or have any financial interest in it, and have known the person signing for at least one year or taken reasonable steps to verify their identity.

Witnesses don’t need to understand the agreement or have any knowledge of the content, they are simply witnessing that the person did in fact sign the document themselves.

When is a witness not required?

Simple contracts and employment agreements don’t generally require a witness however it is always best practice to have one if possible. In the rare case there is a question as to who actually signed the agreement, you would likely have sufficient evidence to prove the employee signed themselves through the email chain, the content of the emails and the IP address from which it was sent.

Generally, a contract between two businesses will not need to be witnessed but again, it is best practice.

Digital witnessing

With the increase in remote working and rise of documents being delivered virtually we are now able to have documents witnessed digitally in NSW. This has been the case since November 2021 when temporary legislation brought in for Covid-19 was made permanent. The person witnessing the document must see the signatory sign in real time via an audio-visual link, be satisfied that the document they sign is the same as the document the signatory signed and include a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signature and that it was witnessed in accordance with section 14G of the electronic transactions Act 2000 (NSW). 

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