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When is an (electronic) signature legally valid?

The Swiss Code of Obligations specifies in which cases a signature is legally valid. For example, it states that, as a rule, a signature must be written out by hand. A reproduction – such as a copy – is only recognised as sufficient if there are no conflicting formal requirements or if using a reproduction is standard practice. This may be the case when, for example, many instances of financial securities are issued. What does this mean for the legal validity of scanned or electronic signatures? We’re here to shine a light on the situation.

What does ‘legally valid’ mean?

Legally valid (rechtsgültig) means – as the term itself implies – that something is valid under the applicable laws. The adjectives ‘legally effective’ (rechtswirksam) and ‘legally binding’ (rechtsverbindlich) are frequently used as well. This should not be confused with ‘in legal force’ (rechtskräftig), which means that something has been finally decided in court and can no longer be appealed.

Legal validity of different types of signatures

Example of a handwritten signature

When is a handwritten signature legally valid?

For a handwritten signature to be legally valid, the full surname must be included. The first name or first initial are optional. Signing by making a cross or a similar symbol is generally not legally valid.

Example of a scanned signature

Is a scanned signature legally valid?

A scanned signature is only a copy of the original and can be used as a visual element. Legally, it could be considered a simple electronic signature. This means it has a certain degree of legal validity. However, if a handwritten signature is required, a scanned signature is not sufficient.

The picture shows the standard signature of SwissID Sign. It contains name, date and type of signature.

Is an electronic signature legally valid?

Provided that the requirements of Art. 14(2)bis Swiss Code of Obligations are met, a qualified electronic signature is equivalent to a handwritten signature and has the same legal effect. A simple or advanced electronic signature, on the other hand, can only be legally valid if there is no formal requirement for the document. This may be the case, for example, if the law does not require a contract to be concluded in writing. In addition, other requirements such as relevant contract clauses must be taken into consideration.

→ More information about different types of signatures

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