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How can documents signed via Autenti be used in court?

Everyone would like to only work with satisfied and reliable contractors. Unfortunately, unpleasant situations do happen, and when we are unable to find any common ground, the case goes to court. The taking of evidence in the case may be, among others, based on the documents submitted in the case file.

One of the concerns that was raised by our clients concerned the judicial authorities and how they treat electronically signed documents. What if the contractor signed the contract using an Autenti electronic signature and does not want to pay? Will the court issue an order for payment on the basis of the signed document? Can this type of document constitute evidence in court proceedings? We have answers to these questions below.

Electronic documents as evidence in civil proceedings

Normally, when we think about a document, we usually imagine a piece of paper with text and rarely a pdf or audio file. But these files are also documents within the meaning of the law. In art. 773 of the Civil Code, which is the definition of the concept of what a “dokument” is, and therefore:

A document is an information medium that makes it possible to read its content.

 The above definition is not limited to the origin or form in which the content is presented. The legal provisions relating to the taking of documentary evidence apply to such documents that contain text and make it possible to establish their issuers.

The document could be e-mails, SMSes, pdfs containing the parties’ electronic signatures, or photos. The Code of Civil Procedure not only regulates what may constitute as evidence in a case, but also what the subject of the evidence is. In accordance with Art. 227 of the Code of Civil Procedure

The subject of the evidence are facts of significant importance for the outcome of the case.

In other words, everything that can be useful to determine the facts, e.g. the arrangements between the parties, proof of contract execution, etc. including documents in electronic form. They can be used as evidence in a court case. This is also referred to in Art. 46. eIDAS (Regulation (EU) No 910/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market and repealing Directive 1999/93/EC).

Another important issue is the authenticity of such a document. During the trial, the opposing party may claim that the document constituting evidence is false. In this case, the Court may take evidence from witnesses, listen to the parties, or request an expert to verify the authenticity of the document, including the electronic document. The court may also request that the issuer of the document give access to the data medium that the document is stored on (Art. 254. §2. Code of Civil Procedure).

The courts recognize the electronic signature

We have already mentioned the eIDAS regulation, which regulates the issuing of electronic identification and trust services throughout the European Union. EIDAS records are valid in all EU countries. In the context of using electronically signed documents as evidence, Art. 25 point 1. states that signing a document with an electronic signature does not mean that it cannot carry legal effects. Moreover, the court cannot refuse the admission of this type of signature as evidence in the proceedings only because it is in electronic form.

Documents signed via Autenti as evidence in court

Documents on Autenti are signed using at least the name, surname, and e-mail address provided by the sender when sending a document, as well as the IP address of the network that the recipient uses to connect to the Internet. For an added level of security, you can also use a one-time SMS password. Then the recipient, in addition to having access to the e-mail address, must also have access to the phone number (similar to confirming bank transfers). 

Ok, but where's the electronic signature here? In accordance with eIDAS, an electronic signature is the electronic data affiliated with and linked to the document and, more importantly, the signatories consciously used this data as signatures (Art. 10. point 10).

Persons signing documents on Autenti agree that data such as the e-mail address, IP address, or phone number and SMS code constitute an element of the electronic signature. You can successfully present a signed document to the court as evidence in the case.

What can a contractor dispute?

Despite the fact that the document signed on the Autenti platform meets all the requirements for being admitted as evidence in court, your contractor may try to call some typical issues into question.

It was not me who signed the document

If your contractor puts this claim forward, then the burden of proof is on them. This means that the contractor must prove to the court that the document presented is false, e.g. the signature was made by another person (Articles 253 and 254 of the Code of Civil Procedure).

This person would have to prove that it was not their e-mail address and telephone number (when using SMS code verification), or that they were being impersonated. It is difficult to prove the above circumstances, incl. due to the fact that contractor e-mail addresses are often public, assigned to specific companies or persons representing them.

Additionally, the correspondence with a given person through the indicated e-mail address before and after signing the contract electronically or an SMS correspondence can be presented as evidence in court. As we indicated above, these are also documents and can be used as evidence in the case.

If necessary, Autenti, at the request of the court, can provide evidence of the document signing process , e.g. information as to who viewed and signed the document, what data was used to do it and how long it took.

This is not what I signed

As we wrote earlier, if necessary, the court may request the issuer of an electronic document to provide a data medium with the document in question (Art. 21 of the Code of Civil Procedure). So far, Autenti has not been summoned by the Court to participate in any case. This is confirmation that there are no doubts in the common courts as to the truthfulness of the documents submitted as evidence in a case. All information relevant to the court can be found in the electronic layer of the signed document.

Each document sent and signed via Autenti is affixed with a qualified electronic seal. Thanks to this qualified seal, we can guarantee the integrity and authenticity of the document. These are two very important features:

  1. Integrity is the guarantee that the content of the document has not been changed from the moment it is sent by the sender until all signatures are submitted.
  2. Authenticity is a guarantee that the document has been sent from our platform. The data contained in the seals concern Autenti and only Autenti may use them.

Another additional feature is accessibility, which, when combined with integrity, means that every document signed via Autenti is saved on a durable medium. This is an additional argument for the courts and an important aspect in relationships with consumers. Learn more about durable mediums.

When signing, your contractor confirmed that they knew and accepted the contents of the document, and that its content could not be altered because it contains inviolable electronic seals. Additionally, it is possible to use publicly available online tools to verify electronic signatures submitted on the document. 

I have signed this document but it is ineffective

Autenti allows you to sign documents in document and electronic form. The electronic form requires a qualified electronic signature. A qualified signature is equivalent to a handwritten signature, therefore the electronic form is equivalent to the written form. There are many forms for concluding contracts, such as orally, documentary, written, electronic or as a notarial deed.

The type of form used depends on the arrangements between the parties or on the provisions that regulate the given type of declarations of will. Find out more about the documentary form. That is why it is important to select appropriate measures when concluding contracts. Failure to comply may result in the court considering part or all of the contract invalid.

For example:

You commission a graphic designer to prepare a poster advertising your services. You sign a contract for specific work electronically using a standard electronic signature. In order for you to be able to freely use the poster for its purposes, the contract contains provisions on the transfer of proprietary copyrights. By using a standard electronic signature, the contract has a documentary form.

According to the Act on Copyright and Related Rights, the transfer of proprietary copyrights may only take place in writing under pain of nullity. In the event of failure to comply with the written form, the contract or the provisions of the contract regarding the transfer of economic copyrights are invalid by law. In this situation, the court may decide that the entire contract is invalid and find that the proprietary copyrights have not been effectively transferred.

To avoid any doubt in such a situation it would be necessary to:

  1. Sign the document electronically using qualified signatures or
  2. Sign the contract traditionally (handwritten, on paper).

Summary

The use of an electronic signature in no way discredits contracts concluded electronically before the court. Moreover, in using Autenti, pursuing your rights is easier. We use technology that preserves document features and is easy to verify by courts and experts. We know of at least ten court proceedings where documents signed via Autenti were presented as evidence in court. We were not called upon to provide explanations regarding the integrity or origin of the signed documents for any of the cases. With that being said, using Autenti is a safe way to conclude contracts.