Law Society unveils plans to enable digital exchange of property contracts

Published on 29.11.23
Published on 29.11.23

The Law Society has issued a draft protocol to change how property contracts are exchanged. The changes are intended to reflect how people do business due to new technology and the impact of the pandemic.

Exchanging contracts is a critical part of a property sale as it is the moment the parties become contractually bound. If a party pulls out after exchange, they could be liable for breach of contract.

Speed up the process

Delays in exchanging can be stressful for both clients and solicitors alike. The Law Society wants solicitors to be able to exchange digitally to speed up the process in both residential and commercial transactions.

At present, a contract for the sale of land will be void unless:

  • it is in writing, signed and incorporates all the agreed terms in a single document, or
  • if each party signs their own version of the contract, each document must contain all the agreed terms and the contracts exchanged.

Law “not entirely clear”

The Law Society says that using PDF scans of a wet-ink-signed paper contract, electronic signatures or an electronic contract signed on a computer or other electronic device have become common in conveyancing transactions. However, it admits that “the law isn’t entirely clear around certain aspects of using electronic documents in the conveyancing process”.

The draft code is intended to remove uncertainty by allowing conveyancers to use new technology to conduct property transactions. It contains protocols covering such matters as how deposits are dealt with and the process for exchange where a solicitor receives or has an electronic contract signed by the other solicitor’s client.

Consultation

The Law Society has launched a consultation seeking views on the draft protocol from Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) members, local law societies and other conveyancing stakeholders. It is expected to respond to feedback in the New Year.

Smart contracts and digital qualified electronic signatures (QES)

Whatever form the final protocol takes, it will likely be a short-term solution. Plans are already afoot for transactions to take place using ‘smart contracts’ (ie contracts stored on a blockchain) and documents signed using a ‘qualified electronic signature’ verified by an electronic identity check. Inevitably, new protocols will be required as and when these come into effect.

If you have any queries in relation to the draft protocol, please contact Daniel Broughton at [email protected].

Disclaimer: The above is merely general guidance and should not be relied on as formal advice. We suggest you take professional legal advice before taking any action in relation to the issues discussed above.