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Legal implications of Computer-generated paper: Signature Required?

In a country which is speeding up on becoming a paperless economy and Digital banking becoming the new normal, receiving an unsigned business letter/Receipt/Advice/invoice bearing particulars "This letter/Report Advice is computer generated and therefore does not require any signature", is also being routed by the furnisher of the document; which, when inspected under the law might certainly become spurious and illusory and the burden would eventually fall upon the oblivion receiver of the receipt.

Documents that are of confidential nature and require signature to prove their authenticity and legality would fail in doing so and prove to be disastrous in matters of dispute.

With intense and uncontrollable practice of using the blooming catchphrase people have blindly adopted it to be legally acceptable ignorant to the laws pertaining to the same, to say; more specifically the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Banks seem to be showcasing a practice of loose system of functionality in their own domain where utmost professionalism must be the key. People put their trust in these institutions not only because of their responsibility but also the authenticity their work carries and the relationship between them and the depositors.

Services being rendered such as e-fixed deposit and e-mailing e-FD receipts in a PDF form as attachments to depositors/addressee using password protection mechanism for email attachments which the depositors inherently presume them to carry a digital sanction.

The originator of the e-receipt can also use a facsimile signature which is basically a copy of the original signature that can work in place of the original signature and holds itself to be legally enforceable.

'Ignorantia juris quod quisque scire tenetur non excusat' - Ignorance of the law, which everybody is supposed to know, does not constitute an excuse. For instance, if a case is brought before the court by the receiver/depositor/customer against the bank about the validity of the cheque or other significant financial tool which could not be enforced consequent to their failure in holding the documents as legally binding against the bank due to unsigned receipt/legend there's high probability of banks escaping safely by bringing up the common practice of fellow organizations in the economy in front the court of law that has been accommodated with open arms in the industrial arena leaving the victim without a judicial remedy.

The Hon'ble High Court, in the case of Kusum Durga Kand v. Karla Papers P Ltd. (2012) filed under Sec 96 of CPC took Bills as a corroborative evidence to arrive at the conclusion that the disputed goods are not supplied since the bills under dispute do not bear the signatures or the initials of any of the employees of the respondent/plaintiff.

A similar view was taken in another case where The National Commission pointed out that in order to establish deficiency in service, it would be necessary to produce the goods receipts. The Commission also observed that the bills, which were computer generated, did not bear the signature of the consignee, there was no evidence to establish the authenticity of the bills.

Thus, in order that documents have evidentiary value, they must be thoroughly scrutinized to see they are properly prepared and signed.

The question arises why documentation requires a signature?
It is for the following arguments a document should carry a signature:
  1. It is important to check the legitimacy of the document.
  2. It's also important to keep a record of the document in an organization to determine who drafted the document in future and when required which can be looked into the database of the organization and therefore, the record of the signatory can be determined.

Section 2(1) (ta) in The Information Technology Act, 2000 defines "electronic signature" means authentication of any electronic record by a subscriber by means of the electronic technique specified in the Second Schedule and includes digital signature; we note that in the definition the word authentication is used which means that an e-document containing an electronic signature carries legal sanctity in the court of law.

Section 5 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 talks about Legal recognition of electronic signature which says, that if any law provides that information or any other matter shall be authenticated by affixing the signature or any document shall be signed or bear the signature of any person, then, notwithstanding anything contained in such law.

Such requirement shall be deemed to have been satisfied, if such information or matter is authenticated by means of electronic signature affixed in such manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government; which the banks in this case, clearly do not seem to be following rather they continue to function effortlessly keeping the stakeholders' trust and documents for a toss.

The particulars that carry the tag line "This is an electronically generated report, hence does not require a signature" and is only password protected carry no evidentiary value and hence, not acceptable and legally binding against the originator.

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