A modern iteration of the age-old practice of signing statutory declarations is being embraced by the Australian legal system as it pivots toward the digital. Replacing the conventional use of pen and paper, statutory declarations will now be made with electronic signatures and witnessed via video-link, thanks to new legislation introduced by the federal government.
Implemented as temporary measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, these amendments are now set to become a permanent fixture in Australian law. The proposed Bill will also enable Australians to digitally execute a stat dec through the myGov platform and myGov ID.
The advancement is not merely for convenience; significant annual savings are anticipated with the transition to digital. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus suggests these electronic declarations could save upwards of $156 million per year and hundreds of thousands of hours for the private sector. According to his office, “Australians expend an estimated nine million hours yearly, executing and processing over 3.8 million statutory declarations, traditionally a paper-based, in-person, ink-signed process.”
The move to digital is expected to be particularly beneficial for individuals in rural and remote Australian areas. However, those comfortable with or preferring the traditional method can continue to make paper-based declarations, all three formats being considered legally valid and equally effective forms of Commonwealth statutory declaration.
The Bill goes one step further to afford privacy protection. It mandates online platforms and identity services to demonstrate compliance with privacy laws and robust fraud and security arrangements. Importantly, approved digital platforms are prohibited from retaining statutory declarations copies which often contain sensitive personal information.
Moreover, an annual reporting requirement to Parliament about the functioning of the online execution platform has been stipulated in the Bill to uphold transparency and accountability in this new statutory declaration model.