We recently attended a webinar by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) on 20 July 2020. The purpose was to discuss some reforms to the rules and in particular the new “Urgent Measures Act”.

The purpose of the new changes are to support the Government as part of its business response to COVID by encouraging growth through investment. So there are some simplifications made to the normal OIO process– while also ensuring there are rules in place in relation to sensitive land and other categories of assets.

Before we get into detail it is worth noting that the guides on investing in New Zealand at the OIO website are quite helpful, for example, this one on which transactions need consent.

Overview

There are four key changes:

1. Temporary Emergency Notification Requirements;
2. New national interest assessment;
3. Simplified screening; and
4. Stronger enforcement powers.

In this article we will set out the key points for each of them.

1. Temporary Emergency Notification Requirements

Notification is required in relation to ownership/control there are (no monetary thresholds) and will be needed for increases above 25%, ownership beyond 50%, 75% or to 100%. They said that this is a deliberately broad approach they said. This is a temporary regime which will only apply for a limited time.

Who needs to notify? This should be done by any person who has more than 25% overseas ownership, are non-citizens and non-residents, and have more than 25% control of a board, as well as those who are associates.

What needs to be notified? Purchase of more than 25% of a business, increases in key thresholds (above) and purchase of more than 25% of the property of an NZ business (including land interests that would not be sensitive).

When to notify? 16 June is when legislation came into force, so only for those deals after that.

What do you not need to notify? If you already have consent, or if you need consent under another criteria.

Examples of when notice is needed:

Direct: An overseas entity buying all shares of an NZ company – needs to be  notified, even if a shell company.

• Indirect: Overseas person buying an Australian company that has an NZ entity – need to notify (ie even though already overseas owned).

• Notification of property: If a company is being bought that has property, then you need to notify. If a lease to an overseas person, then it depends if that is more than 25% of the value of the NZ companies property at the NZ Company.

There is no cost to notify and there is a form online. There is a much higher level of information needed than normal. It will take around 35-40 minutes to fill in the form. The type of information required includes type of transaction, if there is a target entity, the investor themselves etc.

Once submitted, they will assess if more details are needed or if the transaction can be approved. Generally this takes around 10 days (if the transaction can proceed). A few applications may be allowed to proceed subject to conditions. A few applications may be denied or need more information.

If more information is required, then you will need to allow a total of 40 working days and the aim is to resolve all within 70 working days.

If a transaction is not notified, there can be serious implications. The highest penalty would be civil penalties of up to $10million.

2. National interest assessment

The OIO emphasised that they want investments to proceed. So the question they ask is going to be:  “Is the transaction  is contrary to the national interest?” This test will be applied:

• If further assessment is needed;
• If it is a strategically important business; and
• If the Minister of Finance wants to ask more questions about an application.

The OIO will look broadly at factors such as competition, social impacts, character of the investor, national security, public order, international relations, alignment with NZ values and interests as well as broader policy settings. The factors are very broad. As an example, they would look more closely at military technology investments than other investments.

An application could have conditions added to manage risks, or it could be prohibited or it could just proceed without conditions.

3. Simplified Screening

This simplified screening includes that low risk transactions that do not need consent eg small increases in shareholding. There are also automatic standing consents for eg listed entities that are not more than 50% owned overseas, land adjoining sensitive land, managed investment schemes and some debt transactions.

As an example, if an overseas person is buying land next to sensitive land, that may qualify for the automatic standing consent. Also, some loans and debt can qualify for automatic consent.

4. Enforcement powers

These are increased, such as adding enforceable undertakings as a possibility as well as maximum penalties including  (changing from $300,000 to $500,000). For a company, it could range from $300k to $10 million. The reason for this is that breaches are serious and so the penalty reflects that.

Conclusion

Overall it appears that the intention is to allow easier investment in New Zealand. However, as you can see from the detail in this short update it is worth speaking with advisors about the particular context as there are likely to be additional points to consider to ensure you qualify for the simpler regime.

For more information the OIO website has a lot of detail. For example, the above is discussed here https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/changes-overseas-investment-act.

Please note that this is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Please feel free to contact us on 03 348 8480 or by email to Steven Moestevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrisonkrismorrison@parryfield.com

 

In part one and two of our articles on buying and selling a business we looked at both the important issues and what the agreement for sale and purchase should cover.  In part three, we will consider the impact of Covid-19 and how it has affected the buying and selling process and further points that need to be considered during these unprecedented times.  Whether you are considering selling or purchasing a business, or you have just started the process, the following should be taken into consideration:

Due Diligence

In part one, we explored the importance of due diligence and key questions that should be asked. The effects of Covid-19 should not alter your approach to carrying out due diligence, in fact it may be that a more rigorous approach is taken by buyers to understand the implications Covid-19 has had on the business and how it would fare if another situation like this were to happen again. When carrying out due diligence, both seller and purchaser should be mindful that more time may be required to undertake and complete the process due to the restrictions in place, as the ability to obtain information such as important documentation or carrying out physical inspections may not be possible right away.

Material Adverse Change Clauses

As we are in the midst of the unknown, agreements between buyer and seller will be subject to greater scrutiny and negotiation. The inclusion of material adverse change (MAC) clauses in an agreement is likely to be of particular interest, especially to a buyer. A MAC clause is used to reduce risk and uncertainty for buyers during the period between the agreement and the date the deal closes. Such clauses give the right for the buyer to walk away from a deal. For a seller, taking the current climate into consideration the inclusion of such a clause should be drafted carefully, thinking about what is considered to be a change and looking to the future and the potential of a similar situation occurring again.

Finance

As a buyer, if you are obtaining finance from a third party such as bank, it may take longer and become more difficult. In these uncertain times, banks may be reluctant to lend or may seek additional requirements are satisfied in order to obtain approval. Therefore, it important that the sale and purchase documentation covers the risks that are associated with lending during this time.   For example, the seller may want to include a break fee, if finance is unable to be obtained by the buyer. Where a buyer may want the ability to walk away from the deal and have a financing out condition. It will be up the parties to balance the risk and reach an agreement that they are both comfortable with.

Warranties

In this current climate, sellers may be reluctant to agree to warranties about the state of the business, as the long term effects of Covid-19 on a business may not be known for some time. While for buyers it may be that they look at additional situation-specific warranties in relation to this pandemic. Warranties will be subject to robust negations even more so than before, therefore again, it will come down to the parties being able to find the right balance in terms risk.

Other Conditions

The uncertainty for many businesses during this time may see the inclusion of other conditions in a sale and purchase agreement. Such conditions may relate to maintaining current suppliers or current employees.

Conclusion

As the restrictions ease, many are still trying to navigate their way through the unknown.  It is difficult to know the long term implications of Covid-19 and effects that it will have had on the businesses that survived the lockdown period. Therefore, it will be important for those looking to buy a business to ensure they have done their ‘homework’. While sellers will need to be upfront and ensure they are covered if a situation like this were to ever occur again.

We often help both buyers or sellers of businesses and in this unique context would be happy to talk about your situation to make sure the agreements work well.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist in your journey. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison at krismorrison@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

What should the agreement cover?  

In the first part on buying or selling a business here we saw there were some big picture things you need to think about when buying a business.  This part will look at what the agreement for sale and purchase should cover and some key things that need to be thought through.  While written from the point of view of a Purchaser, it will also raise the same issues that a Seller will need to think through.

Assuming the decision is to purchase the business (rather than the shares of the company – this point was touched on above) then a commonly used template agreement in New Zealand is produced by the Auckland District Law Society.  While it provides a base and a process it can also be adapted to reflect the situation.  In terms of process what usually happens is the agreement gets signed and it is subject to conditions – once those conditions are satisfied it may Just a few examples of the way that it can be customised are:

  • Documents to be supplied: We commonly add in many additional terms which relate to the due diligence discussed above and what records will be provided.  This usually involves a careful discussion with the client to determine what they expect to see and then being clear about what they have.  If you ask for a licence that the seller should have and they cannot provide it, then obviously a red flag goes up.
  • Conditions: These could include the purchaser arranging finance for the purchase by a certain date, being satisfied with the results of the due diligence, having the lease (if there is one) assigned to the purchaser, obtaining consents or licenses needed.  Again, this will vary depending on the business so there is no standard wording that can just be pasted in.
  • Warranties: It is common to include warranties – these are essentially statements by the Seller about the state of the business. For example, a warranty might state that there is no litigation that the company is a party to.  Often these will be subject to robust negotiations – for example, the Seller may want this to say “as far as I am aware” (a knowledge qualifier), or refer to a monetary value such as there being no disputes above “x” dollars (a monetary threshold qualifier).
  • Restraints: It is common to include restraints on the seller of the business – particularly if it were, for example, a catering business or there was potential that they start something new that competes.  Restraints need to be reasonable and usually will involve a certain time period such as one year and there will be a geographic area which is specified.  Again, this can be a point of rigorous negotiations.
  • Intellectual property: Goodwill and reputation often make up a big part of the value of the business which is being purchased so it is important to be clear about what that includes – for example, names (are they trademarked?), website, Facebook pages, client lists, patents or other registrations.
  • Contracts: As part of the due diligence it is important to look at the really key contracts for the business and focus on whether they have change of control provisions and/or the ability to novate or assign to a purchaser.  It might be that there will be issues with the purchaser taking on contracts so that is important to find out as quickly as possible.
  • Tax and accounting: We always advise involving an accountant to assist with these aspects and confirming with them the tax position – for example, that the transfer will be free of GST.  Most of the time both entities will be registered for GST and no GST will be charged but it is far better to get this clear from the start than needing to have a last minute panic.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist in your journey. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison at krismorrison@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

In the last few months we have been helping several people as they purchase businesses.  At the same time there have been other clients who are selling their business.  It seems like for both sets of people there are some basic questions that they always have.  This article tries to answer and clarify with some answers to some of the common points regarding the usual process involved and what documentation is required.  A part 2 then deals with what the agreement for sale and purchase would normally cover. While this is written from the point of view of a Purchaser, it will also raise the same issues that a Seller will need to think through.

So, what are you actually buying?

One of the first things to think about is what you are actually buying.  This can be confusing but think about it this way – are you buying the assets of the company, or the company itself?  It is very common in New Zealand to simply purchase the assets and the business rather than the company.  This is because if you buy the shares of the company then you are stepping into the shoes of that company – which means you get what it owns but you also could get what it owes.  So the key here is to be clear about what you actually want and the usual advice would be that purchasing the business and assets is best.  Having said that, there may be reasons why purchasing the shares of a company is necessary and you actually want to take on board all that it has – including licenses and registrations – so every situation needs to be thought through.

Due diligence

It is one thing to see an opportunity and have some chats with the founder of a business about how great it is going.  It is quite another to do extensive due diligence and satisfy yourself that everything is as claimed.  A good due diligence process will bring to light anything which you need to be aware of as a purchaser.  For example, the founder may have told you that they have both great suppliers and customers – is that all verbal agreements or are there robust agreements in place which specify how those relationships are governed?  What licenses are in place – or not in place?  What disputes are there or litigation or potential claims?  What do the accounts reveal?  Is the lease about to expire?  How about relationships with employees?

What does a due diligence involve?

A good due diligence process will see the Seller provide access to all the key documents of the business so you can thoroughly examine them.  This will likely involve advisers such as accountants and lawyers to look through documents.  If you are considering selling a business then the counterpoint here is to keep good records.  How many times have I been involved in due diligences where the Seller has no records of decisions or no contracts in place?  Far too many times – a Purchaser will be scared off if you cannot show clean records and processes.  And if you are a start-up, begin keeping good records right from the start, it will make it far easier to get investors or sell out later on.

Other things to thing about…

There are many other points which we could cover and some hints are: Which employees will come over?  What are the actual assets?  Is the price sensible when looking at the accounts?  Given the industry is there any potential for large claims or liability?  What is the goodwill actually worth?  Is there a reason they want to sell now?  What future changes  might there be in the industry that will affect the business?

Conclusion

We hope this is a helpful overview of some of the things to think about when buying – or selling – a business.  In part 2 we will look at what the agreement for sale and purchase should cover. In fact the issues and things that need to be thought through will be the same no matter how many zeros there are on the end of the purchase price.  The key thing is to remember that every transaction will be unique and so it is important to take a customised approach to what you ask for in the agreement, whether you are a buyer or seller.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist in your journey. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison at krismorrison@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

Buying your first home is exciting but it can also be quite overwhelming with lots of words being thrown at you that you don’t quite understand. As a house purchase is likely to be one of the largest investments you make, it is important that you are fully informed when starting the home buying process.

When my husband and I purchased our first home we were nervous and a little unsure of what was to come. Once we had worked our way through making an offer, working through our conditions and ending up at settlement day, picking up the keys to our first home is still one of our greatest memorys. I’m a young first home buyer and in this article I am going to break down some of the keys things I wish I had known/think other first home buyers should know.

1. Chat to the professionals

Once you are thinking about buying your first house, it is a really good idea to chat to your lawyer and bank/broker early on in the process. Having a strong team of professionals backing you from the get-go will ensure that the process is less stressful overall.

Bank

Your bank will be able to talk through the finance side of things with you to determine how much you can afford. They will also be able to work with you to determine if you are eligible for a KiwiSaver first home withdrawal or a HomeStart Grant. Your bank might also have special conditions that they need you to fulfil before they give an unconditional offer of finance. It is a good idea to find out what these conditions are (preferably in writing from the bank) and chat to your lawyer about them as early as possible. Common conditions that we would see include the bank receiving and being satisfied with a registered valuation or a builder’s report and having confirmation that your Kiwisaver funds are available for use. If you are purchasing in Canterbury, they may also wish to see all documentation relating to any earthquake claims associated with the property.

Lawyer

Contacting your lawyer early on means that you can get a better idea of what the process is going to look like and what you should be looking out for when you do find the right place. We would always suggest that you chat to your lawyer before you put an offer in on a property (sign a Sale and Purchase Agreement) as that way your lawyer can ensure that all the conditions are in your offer that need to be there.

2. Be prepared for extra costs

It is important to bear in mind that you will be putting more money into your purchase than just the purchase price. There will be additional fees such as your lawyer’s fees and builder’s fees if you choose to get a building report done. There are also extra fees that your lawyer will need to pay to Land Information New Zealand to transfer the title to the property into your name and register a mortgage and also to the local Council for ordering a LIM report.

3. There will be deadlines

There will be certain deadlines in your Sale and Purchase Agreement that you need to be aware of. Often, once you have signed your offer you will have 10-20 working days (about 2 to 4 weeks) to work through your due diligence and satisfy all your conditions. It is important to note that if you don’t meet the deadlines, the Vendor (the person selling the house) will have the option to cancel the Agreement on you.

Your lawyer will be able to advise you of the deadlines and will work with you ensure that the deadlines are met or that an extension is requested where needed.

4. Set time aside for meetings and phone calls

You should be aware that you will need to put time into getting things across the line. Your lawyer will be putting in a lot of work behind the scenes but there are certain things that they can’t do without you.

Signing KiwiSaver Withdrawal Documents

If you are looking to withdraw your KiwiSaver funds you will need to meet with your lawyer to sign some documents which they will then send away to your KiwiSaver provider. If you can’t meet with your lawyer to sign the documents, you will be able to do this with a local Justice of the Peace.

Phone Calls and Emails

While you are working through your purchase conditions, you will likely need to talk with various people. For example, if you are obtaining a builder’s report, you will need to arrange this with a builder and review the report that they send through. Likewise, you will need to talk about your bank/broker about finalising finance and with your lawyer as you work through the various conditions.

Settlement Documentation

Prior to settlement your bank will send your lawyer some loan documents which will need to be signed in order for your bank to pay out your loan on settlement. There will also be a couple of other documents that your lawyer will need to sign with you before they can transfer the title to the property into your name(s). These documents can normally all be signed in the same meeting.

5. Get excited!

If you are reading this article then congratulations on getting this far in the home buying process. Buying a house is a big deal and it will be a great feeling picking up the keys to your new home.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Our property team at Parry Field Lawyers love helping first home buyers into their first homes. We explain things to you in an easy to understand way and are here every step of the way to answer your questions. For more information, contact us on 03-348-8480 or by emailing Paul Owenspaulowens@parryfield.com, Judith Bullinjudithbullin@parryfield.com or Luke Haywardlukehayward@parryfield.com

Global economic uncertainty as a result of COVID-19 will impact house purchases.  On 30 April 2020, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) announced the removal of mortgage loan-to-value ratio (LVR) restrictions for 12 months. The decision was made to ensure LVR restrictions did not have an undue impact on borrowers or lenders as part of the mortgage deferral scheme implemented in response to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this article we discuss what the changes are and the likely impact they will have.

LVR: What Does It Mean?

LVR is the amount of loan compared to the value of your property. For example, if the property is worth $500,000 and you have a deposit of $100,000, the LVR will be 80 percent meaning the loan cannot be higher than $400,000.  LVR restrictions were introduced by the RBNZ in October 2013, as it was concerned about the rate at which house prices were increasing and the potential risk that it posed to the financial system and the broader economy. These restrictions required banks to restrict new residential mortgage lending at LVRs over 80 percent and allowing no more than 20 percent of its total new lending in this category. This placed restrictions on New Zealand banks and the amount of low deposit lending they could do.

If you were thinking about purchasing a home and had a deposit of less than 20 percent of the home’s value, your home loan application would have been affected by the LVR restrictions. Your application would have had to go through a number of assessments by the bank in order to determine whether it could lend you money or not. If successful, borrowers would face an additional fee called a low equity margin. This resulted in a percentage added to your interest rate that remained there until your loan reduced to the 80 percent threshold. These restrictions certainly did not make it easy for first home buyers and many felt they had been locked out of the property market. However, such restrictions clearly did not deter them. In December 2019 the amount advanced on mortgages was $6.5 billion, with $1.2 billion being advanced to first home buyers, giving this group its highest share since August 2014 (at 18.5%).

Removing LVR

The announcement from the RBNZ to remove LVR restrictions was a strategic one to bolster the economy and increase demand for property as New Zealand comes out of lockdown, with this decision to be revaluated in 12 months. The removal of restrictions on the amount of money that can be lent to high-LVR borrowers will not only have an impact on new home buyers, but also investment property buyers and those who are already current homeowners.

First Home Buyers

If you have been looking at buying your first home for some time but have been put off by the LVR restrictions, the announcement may have come as a breath of fresh air to you. While it is likely that low equity margin rates may still be applicable, as long as you are credit worthy with income and meet the bank’s lending criteria, you could very well be on your way to buying your first home. The removal of LVRs will not only mean it will now be easier for you to obtain lending, it will also mean that you will now have the opportunity to ‘shop around’ and choose a bank that best suits your circumstances. Up until now, you may only have been able to get a pre-approval from your current bank, as most banks have been reluctant to give pre-approvals to non-bank clients in case their existing clients could not be approved. This should no longer be the case and an opportunity is there to be taken advantage of.

Investment Property Buyers

Due to the higher risks associated with these types of loans, the current policy classifies investor loans as high-LVR if they are more than 70 percent of the property’s value. These high-LVR loans could make up no more than 5 percent of a bank’s total new lending in this category. It is likely that this percentage will increase over time, but given the period of uncertainty we are in, it is hard to gauge when this will occur and what the removal of LVR restrictions will truly look like for investment property buyers.

Current Homeowners

The impact on current homeowners is minimal. However, this may make it easier to apply for home loan top ups, especially if you were already close to the 80 percent threshold. It may also mean if you have suffered a loss of income or your property value has decreased to mean your mortgage is now over 80 percent, it may not be as dire for you or the bank as it was before.

Conclusion

The announcement from the RBNZ to remove LVR restrictions was certainly welcomed, especially as the implications of Covid-19 from a financial point of view continue to be negatively felt throughout the country. It will certainly be interesting to see what occurs over the next 12 months as the impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer and whether LVR restrictions will be reinstated.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist you in your journey. Please feel free to contact Judith Bullin at judithbullin@parryfield.com or Paul Owens at paulowens@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

Implications of the Covid-19 lockdown

In property transactions, each party must sign an Authority and Instruction form allowing their respective lawyers the ability to make changes to a property’s title on their behalf. Physical signatures on these documents must typically be witnessed by a lawyer or Justice of the Peace. However, in response to the Covid-19 situation, interim guidelines issued by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) record that Authority and Instruction forms can be signed by means of an electronic signature — until at least these guidelines are revoked. Alternatively, wet-ink physical signatures will need to be witnessed over a video link.

The Government has also made a temporary law change to modify the requirements of witnessing and signing wills and enduring power of attorneys (EPAs). These changes allow wills and EPAs to be signed and witnessed using audio-visual links (for example Zoom, Facetime and Skype etc). For further guidance on how these documents can be witnessed and signed,  it is explained here for wills and explained here for EPAs.

In terms of statutory declarations and affidavits, it appears that these may be administered electronically — however, physical signatures would still be required. As above, signatures in these cases need to be witnessed over a reliable video link .

It is still understood that powers of attorney and enduring powers of attorney (and presumably Wills and the like) cannot be signed electronically.

If anything is not clear here then we would be happy to discuss with you — as usual individual circumstances usually mean that the context is important to consider.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

Are physical signatures necessary when executing legal documents?

 Not always. The rules are found in the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 (CCLA). The core principle is that a signature must be RELIABLE in order to have any legal effect. In determining whether the signature you have provided is reliable, the questions are:

  1. Does the signature adequately identify you?
  2. Does it indicate your approval of the information in the document?
  3. Given the nature of the transaction, is the means by which your signature was provided (physical or electronic) appropriate?

An electronic method must satisfy the first two aspects above in order to be recognised as an “electronic signature” in New Zealand. Generally, an electronic signature is presumed to be reliable provided:

1.  The means of creating the electronic signature is:

(a)            linked only to the signatory;

(b)           under the control of the signatory alone; and

2.  Any alterations to either the signature or the information in the document, is detectable.

However, this presumption may be overturned if the electronic signature is held not to be ‘as reliable as is appropriate’ given the purpose and circumstances in which the signature is being required.  This is very much a fact-specific determination that will depend on the context of each situation. It is suggested that the following factors be considered:

  • the size of the transaction (i.e. the level of risk e.g. documents involving large sums);
  • how often you transact with the other party concerned; and
  • whether the other party (and yourself) often enters into the sort of agreement represented by the document.

Practical examples of these principles

Below are some case law examples that help illustrate the standard:

Wilfred v Lexington Legal Ltd

An electronic signature (in the form of an email from a client to their lawyer signing “best regards — Harmon”) sufficed as being a reliable for the purposes of entering into a contract for legal services.

Company Net Ltd v Registrar of Companies

Original signatures were required by the Registrar of Companies in relation to company incorporation documents — albeit in this case, there were issues of identifiability that caused concern. The companies office makes clear that they do accept electronic signatures for most documents.

See: https://companies-register.companiesoffice.govt.nz/help-centre/managing-your-online-account/filing-documents-with-electronic-signatures/

Welsh v Gatchell

Agreements for sale and purchases of land can be signed electronically. Notice to the other party about electronic signatures is already provided in the standard terms of the Auckland District Law Society document which is commonly used for these types of transactions.

Consequently, although electronic signatures will generally be considered reliable, where there is a lot riding on a particular document (i.e. a sizeable transaction as opposed to a mere box ticking activity), it appears prudent to require physical signatures. Where physical signatures pose significant inconvenience and you wish to sign electronically, we advise that you give express notice to the other party that an electronic signature will bind all parties to the contents of the document, and that you expressly specify the form of electronic signature required.

What documents can be signed electronically?

As noted above, documents can be signed electronically as long as the signatory is identifiable and the signature is reliable. However, there are two main caveats to this:

Legal Requirement

Where there is a legal requirement on you to give information to a person (thus requiring your signature), you must obtain that person’s consent to receiving the information through means of electronic signature.

Documents of Integrity

Electronic signatures have no effect on documents that concern “matters of integrity” such as:

  • Documents relating to citizenship, elections, fish and game, civil aviation, corrections, credit contracts and consumer finance, disabled persons community welfare, fisheries, medicine regulations, misuse of drugs, passports, and court procedural documents;
  • Documents that relate to affidavits, statutory declarations, documents given on oath or affirmation (although there are some short term changes due to Covid-19 which we discuss below);
  • Powers of attorney and enduring powers of attorney, Wills, codicils and the like;
  • Negotiable instruments;
  • Bills of lading;
  • Warrants to enter, search or seize; and
  • Fair Trading Act 1986 provisions in relation to consumer standards information on goods or services, and products or safety standards.

Is it sufficient to provide electronic pdf versions of the signed documents or are originals always required?

The inclusion of a counterparts clause in documents allows parties to exchange pdf copies of signed agreements through email or fax. The party last to sign the document effects a binding contract upon their provision of the signed document to the other party/parties. It is common practice for physical signatures to be exchanged in this manner i.e. physical signature presented in electronic form/through electronic means will suffice.

The absence of a counterparts clause in the document itself however means that wet-ink physical signatures will be required. A signature may be deemed unreliable where it is performed in a manner that wasn’t agreed to between the parties as evidenced in the document.

Provision of the originally signed documents is also required when executing deeds. Section 10 of the Property Law Act 2007 requires a signed deed to be delivered in order to take effect. Delivery is commonly understood as being the physical handing over of documents either in person or through post. If the intention is to effect delivery otherwise, we advise that this be made clear in the document itself by recording that the deed shall be deemed delivered upon transmission of a scanned copy of the original executed document by one party to the other.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation.  Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

The law recognises that in certain events which are beyond the control of a party that it is not fair for that party to have to continue to comply with the contract.  In light of COVID-19 it is prudent to consider if the pandemic might be a trigger for this in your contracts.

The first step is to check what the contract actually says.  It won’t apply if there is no such provision in the contract.  Normally it will be called a “Force Majeure” clause.  The courts will generally have a high standard if a party wants to rely on this as a grounds to not fulfill the contract.  The sort of factors which will be relevant are:

  • How are the events described?  Is it generic or specific?  In this particular case it will be relevant to see if there is any reference to “disease” or better, epidemics?  If there is a reference to an “Act of God” then that might arguably cover this too.  The most important thing is to check the specific words.
  • Even if there is an event, does that mean that the performance cannot be done?  Just because something costs more doesn’t make it impossible – it may be that you still have to comply.  Again, the context is key.
  • A party needs to be in control – one of the things I have seen is some arguments that a “strike” should be a force majeure event – if it is listed then it may be, but typically the management can control a strike occurring, or not.  So, it might not qualify as a force majeure event.  When it comes to COVID-19 again it may be that a party has no control.
  • The last factor relates to mitigation.  A party should take steps to ensure that the contract is complied with (ie they are mitigating and stopping the impact, if they can).The key point here is perhaps that the wording of the contract needs to be reviewed.  If there is no such clause then it might be possible for the doctrine of frustration to apply – this is where an event makes performance impossible compared to what had been agreed.  Again, context is key.The other thing to look for in contracts would be a “material adverse change” clause – these can apply where an event occurs that means the contract is affected.  You should also review any termination clauses just to see what they provide for eg 30 days written notice?Start by reviewing your contracts and consider your current situation and what the next few weeks and months will hold.  If you would like to discuss your contract and situation then we would be happy to do so.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should consult your lawyer about your specific situation. For any questions, feel free to contact Steven Moe stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison krismorrison@parryfield.com at Parry Field Lawyers.