How should we modernise document execution in Australia?

Project leader(s)

Australia is part of an interconnected global economy where the online world is rapidly changing the economic and social landscape. COVID-19 changed the way Australians engage with digital technologies and demonstrated an acceleration in the uptake of digital technologies by Australian businesses and consumers.

At the same time, many of our most frequently used legal documents remain paper-based, cumbersome to use and difficult to understand. These include ‘solemn legal documents’ such as statutory declarations and deeds, which require specific formats and intermediaries such as qualified witnesses. How can we regulate these kinds of documents – and transactions –in ways that balance the policy need for business efficiency with the original purpose of limiting fraud, while safeguarding vulnerable people?

In this project, Professor Veronica Taylor (RegNet) and Associate Professor Philippa (Pip) Ryan (ANU College of Law) team with the Deregulation Taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to take a first-principles approach to the regulation of document execution in Australia. In a new paper, ‘Executing document in a digital economy: rethinking statutory declaration and deeds in Australia’ [Download paper here], Taylor and Ryan ask:

  • What is the regulatory function of witnessing when we create legal documents?
  • Statutory declarations are now required for an astonishing range of transactions with government, within courts and tribunals and by employers and businesses. Yet the Commonwealth and States and Territories regulate these independently of each other. Are we over-using statutory declarations? Can we make them simpler, more consistent and easier for everyone to understand?
  • COVID-19 legislative reforms in Australia made it easier to create deeds and sign them electronically, and in some cases removed witnessing requirements. But not for all transactions, not for all users and not in all States. Does Australia need a more consistent approach to creating deeds?
  • Australia’s Electronic Transactions Acts are more than 20 years old. Do we need to update our understanding of electronic and digital signatures and their uses?
  • Can digital forms and digital signatures help create more predictable and secure documents?
  • If we move to digitized forms of legal documentation, what does this mean for vulnerable people?
  • Can we harness user-centred legal design to boost access to, and understanding of, legal documents in Australia?
  • What can Australia learn from regulatory approaches in the EU, the United States, Canada, the UK and Singapore to the modernization of document execution?

On 11 June 2021, Commonwealth, State and Territory Treasurers decided to prioritise working together towards a common approach for document execution. This background paper supports public debate on modernizing document execution as part of the Deregulation Taskforce’s deep dive on Modernizing Business Communications:


Image: Professor Veronica Taylor (RegNet)

Professor Veronica Taylor

Veronica L. Taylor is an international lawyer and socio-legal scholar. Her work centres on regulatory intermediation and institutional reform. Within international law and justice norm-making, she...

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet