November 15, 2004

First time a digital signature has been affirmed by court?

The previous story tipped me to this court case last year where digital signatures as signatory evidence were disputed and then confirmed. This may be the first precendent! As far as I know this is the first time the signatures themselves were challenged (our own Ricardian contracts appeared in court in 2001, 2002, but their authenticity was not disputed).

26.06.2003 Digital Signature Found to be Valid in Estonian Court System

The process of court disputes becomes more convenient for participants: according to a ruling taken last week, a district court declared that documents may be sent to court by e-mail if they have a digital signature according to laws. This is the first such case in Estonia.

The reason why the argument about digital signature came to Tallinn district court was a case between Estonian Railways, Estonian Competition Board and Valga Depot (Valga Külmutusvagunite Depoo). Andres Hallmägi, a lawyer representing the depot, sent a digitally signed document to court by e-mail. Tallinn administrative city court claimed that they are not able to read the document and thus rejected it.

"I did not do this because of technological arrogance or bullying," said Hallmägi. "But this was a matter of principle - if you do not push the bureaucrats, they will not start innovating on their own."
An European precedent

The case was taken to district court, where it was ruled that digital signatures are equivalent to handwritten ones in Estonia and therefore the court should not have claimed that they cannot use it.

The district court ruling claims: "The reception of a digitally signed document was not obstructed by the lack of appropriate software - it was and still is possible to immediately install such software at courts when necessary."

Read on...

Posted by iang at November 15, 2004 10:11 AM | TrackBack

As of this fall Estonian court system has written procedures in their "house rules" for digitally signed docs. Considerations for archival, printing out signed docs together with confirmation from digital notary (, up to special addresses for e-mailing digitally signed docs (just in case your judge is computer-illiterate and has troubles operating his inbox).

There are of course also problems with these rules, but fortunately Estonia is sufficiently small and progressive country so appropriate ministry-of-justice person will soon surrender his Skype nick so you can call and freely tell him where they lost the track and how to improve their performance in future.

Posted by: Peeter Marvet at November 17, 2004 05:18 PM