SIGNATURES, ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES AND STATEMENTS OF TRUTH: A BRIEF REFRESHER
One aspect of the decision in Zurich Insurance Plc v Romaine  EWCA Civ 851 that may be unique is the fact that the court will be considering the statement of truth certified by an electronic signature. That case emphasises, if it needed emphasising, the importance of the statement of truth. It is worthwhile having a quick reminder of the important steps that the lawyer must do when signing a statement of truth.
ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE ON CERTAIN DOCUMENTS
In Romaine, the claimant’s solicitor signed the statement of truth on the Particulars of Claim. Replies to Part 18 questions (which it appears to be agreed were palpably untrue) had an “electronic signature” bearing the claimant’s name. The claimant’s case (which has yet to be determined) is that he had no knowledge of either document.
THE USE OF ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES
The Court of Appeal accepted that the use of an electronic signature was sufficient to validate a document under the Civil Procedure Rules.
” The claimant’s submissions based on the Civil Procedure Rules, that an electronic signature is sufficient to validate a document as belonging to its apparent author, are clearly correct. However, the defendant denies in his witness statement dated 8 November 2017 that the signature is his and says that it was inserted into the document without his instructions. Further, he states that he did not see the statement or Part 18 replies before they were served”
However it is not just electronic signatures that are open to the response that the witness, in fact, knew nothing of them of did not sign them.
WHEN A SOLICITOR SIGNS A STATEMENT OF TRUTH
Everyone who does this should know, off by heart, the wording of Practice Direction 22 – Statements of Truth.
“3.7 Where a party is legally represented, the legal representative may sign the statement of truth on his behalf. The statement signed by the legal representative will refer to the client’s belief, not his own. In signing he must state the capacity in which he signs and the name of his firm where appropriate.
3.8 Where a legal representative has signed a statement of truth, his signature will be taken by the court as his statement:
(1) that the client on whose behalf he has signed had authorised him to do so,
(2) that before signing he had explained to the client that in signing the statement of truth he would be confirming the client’s belief that the facts stated in the document were true, and
(3) that before signing he had informed the client of the possible consequences to the client if it should subsequently appear that the client did not have an honest belief in the truth of those facts (see rule 32.14).”
SIGNING BLANK DOCUMENTS
There are several documented cases where clients have simply signed blank documents. Needless to say this is never an appropriate course of action. The following interchange took place with a District Judge was recorded In SRA -v- Jackson
“THE DISTRICT JUDGE: are you accepting that they never signed them again? They signed them on the first date and you…
MR JACKSON: that is correct sir. THE DISTRICT JUDGE:… Effectively altered them?
MR JACKSON: it is quite common practice to obtain a blank signature page, sir, from clients that are remote. You see them on the first occasion, you verify their identity and obtain a blank signature. Obviously, before any witness statements or proceedings would be served, you would have to obtain their instructions and confirm that what they were signing is correct. It is quite common for signatures to be taken at an early stage and used at a later stage”.
The tribunal in that case indicated