Signing deeds during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted by Amy Hazelton, 20th May 2020
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The Land Registry have announced that with effect from 4 May 2020 “Mercury signing” is now a temporary approved method of signature acceptable for deeds and for registration purposes.

The aim is to relieve some of the challenges we face during the COVID-19 restrictions by facilitating remote signing of deeds where several parties need to sign.

Mercury signing is a form of signing settled on as a response to comments in R (Mercury Tax Group Ltd) v HMRC [2008] EWHC 2721 where it was agreed that for a document to be executed as a deed “necessarily involves that the signature and attestation must form part of the same physical document” being signed.

Where all parties to a deed have legal representation, for the purposes of registration, the Land Registry will accept the following deeds or documents that have been signed in accordance with “Option 1” detailed in their Practice Guide 8 under Section 12:

  • A deed that effects one of the dispositions as referred to in Section 27(2) and (3) of the Land Registration Act 2002. Click here for more details on the legislation
  • A discharge or release in Form DS1 or Form DS3
  • Equivalent deeds in relation to unregistered land
  • Powers of Attorney (not to include a Lasting Power of Attorney)
  • If the assent is not made by deed, the seller’s signature does not need to be witnessed.

All conveyancers involved will need to agree to this method of signature prior to the parties signing and it is important to note that the witnessing is required to take place in person rather than by a video call, in exactly the same way as it is for any document to constitute a deed.

The procedure for signing in this way is:

  1. Each party must sign the signature page of the deed in pen.
  2. Each party to the deed must then send a single email to their conveyancer along with the final version of the deed and a scanned or photocopied copy of the signed signature page in PDF or JPEG format.
  3. The final version of the deed and the PDF/JPEG of the signed signature page will constitute an original signed document.
  4. Once signatures have been obtained from all parties, the combining of the deed and signature pages may be done by either electronic combining or being printed and physically combined.
  5. The conveyancer must then certify the whole deed as a true copy of the original.

Guidance is also given as to the registration of deeds:

  • If there has been an electronic combination, the signature pages can be uploaded to the Land Registry portal as a single document.
  • If the deed has been physically combined, the deed and signature pages can be scanned as a single document.
  • The application can also be made in paper form and a copy of the single combined deed including the signature pages will need to be lodged.
  • If the deed was electronically combined it can be printed and sent and this will still be accepted.

The Land Registry have also updated their Practice Guide 8 in relation to plans. It is a Land Registry requirement for a plan included in a transfer or other deed dealing with a part of a registered title to be signed by the seller. In order to assist conveyancers amidst the COVID-19 restrictions the following temporary amendments have been made to the Practice Guide:

  • If the seller’s conveyancer has authority to sign the deed on their client’s behalf then they may also sign the plan by way of a typed signature before emailing the seller the final agreed copy of the deed so that it includes the signed plan.
  • Before returning the final agreed copy of the deed to their conveyancer the seller may now type their name onto the plan by way of signature and include this as part of the final deed.

Please see the Land Registry’s updated Practice guide 8: execution of deeds for further information.

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