What happens when electronic signatures are affixed without authority?

By Jim Bulling and Julia Baldi

A recent NSW Supreme Court decision, Williams Group Australia Pty Ltd v Crocker [2016] NSWCA 265, found that a personal guarantee was not enforceable against an individual where the electronic signature had been affixed without the knowledge or authority of the individual.

This finding applied notwithstanding that the electronic signature was a ‘genuine’ signature uploaded to the relevant execution system “HelloFax”, and that Williams Group Australia Pty, who sought to rely on the signature, had no knowledge of any impropriety with respect to the affixation of the signature.

The Court appeared to approve existing authority which provided the placement of a ‘genuine’ electronic signature on a document without any authority would likely amount to forgery at common law. Such a forgery could not be ratified, and would render the contract void.

The case is a reminder for any person seeking to rely on electronically signed documents to have in place adequate steps and protections to ensure all electronic signatures have been affixed with proper authority. Even a ‘genuine’ electronic signature may be unenforceable against an individual if it is affixed without proper authority.

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