Lately the subject of using electronic signatures comes into question more and more. Most businesses are usually somewhat familiar with the possibility of electronic signatures, however the practical aspects of signing documents electronically are less well known. Especially since contrary to the relevant pieces of legislations many institutions (such as financial institutions) still refuse to accept electronic signatures. Therefore, one can rightfully ask the question the question if we can pay electronically why can’t we sign?

The probative value of documents, that is the degree to which authorities will accept the authenticity of a document, is governed by the Code of Civil Procedure. According to this we can differentiate public documents, private document of full probative force and private documents.

Here we can mention that there are documents that do not constitute as written documents. This usually means documents that do not contain any signatures or other electronic markings that would connect them to the person mentioned in the document. Even though the Civil Code states that any statement shall be construed to have been made in writing if executed in a form with facilities for retrieving the information contained in the legal statement unaltered, and for identifying the person making the legal statement and the time when it was made, but when it comes to a simple e-mail any party can easily claim that the statement is not authentic and therefore such documents have no probative value.

Even though public documents can be made electronically as well in the scope of this summary the proper practice for government authorities is not very relevant.

According to the Code of Civil Procedure a private document is considered to have full probative force if among others:

  • the electronic document is executed by the issuer’s qualified electronic signature or advanced electronic signature based on a qualified certificate or qualified electronic seal or advanced electronic seal based on a qualified certificate;
  • the electronic document is authenticated using the authentication service reintroduced by government decree;
  • the document is executed within the framework of services provided for in an act or government decree, where the service provider clearly establishes the identity of the issuer of the document and assigns that identity to that person by providing assurance that the handwritten signature is that of the issuer; furthermore, the service provider shall make out a certificate of identity fixed in an inseparable addendum comprising an integral part of the electronic document, the addendum and the document both executed by at least an advanced electronic seal and by at least an advanced electronic time stamp.

Other public documents that do not conform to the requirements set out by the Code of Civil Procedure are not considered to have full probative force.

In summary by the regulations of the Code of Civil Procedure in order to a document to have full probative value it most conform to the following criteria:

  • the document is executed using qualified electronic signature, advanced electronic signature or seal;
  • the document is authenticated using the authentication service reintroduced by government decree (AVDH)
  • the document is executed within the framework of services provided for qualified electronic signature, advanced electronic signature, or seal.

In practice the three methods mentioned above are used as the following.

eID card (in Hungarian: eSzemélyi) electronic signature

Since 1 January 2016 everyone can request this a service as part of the new personal identity card and use it as qualified electronic signature. However, it is important to highlight that the certificate and private key issued with eID cards can only be used for signing documents intended for private use, any business, work related, or other professional use is prohibited according to governmental service provider.

Electronic signature services

As the demand for such services grows more and more companies enter the marked providing electronic signature services. The most well-known and commonly utilized domestic service providers are Microsec Zrt and its eSzigno program, Netlock Kft and its NETLOCK application, and a Hungarian startup’s application called Trustchain. When it comes to international providers the French DocuSign is the most well-known. When it comes to choosing between providers it is important to consider what do we need in an electronic signature service. Is it strictly for private or corporate use? Is there a mobile app on the right system? What other software suits are supported by the signature program? Does every party have to have the same program to sign a document?

From the services provided as an example NETLOCK has a free private use only service. ESzigno uses a service package-based subscription system that lets the user pick the appropriate bundle of features, but its focus is mostly on business use. DocuSign also does not have a free tier but allows for third parties to sign documents sent by subscribers using its service.

AVDH can be utilized by anyone who already has access to online administration website (in Hungarian: Ügyfélkapu). Apart from real-estate registry related statements or trusts and wills it can be used to sign any kind of legal statement. As a further advantage AVDH is also compatible with other forms of electronic signature. In summary this service is available for everyone who has an Ügyfélkapu access and can be used to execute documents in a manner to have full probative value.

It is important to also highlight the fact that according to the resolution of the Ministry of Justice AVDH authentication can be used to represent companies as well so managers can issue valid and applicable statements on behalf of the company using AVDH services.

In summary it is not only possible to utilize electronic signatures but more and more easy and practical as well. The AVDH service in our opinion is especially accessible and usable for either private or corporate use and can hopefully help to facilitate the acceptance of fully electronic administration in Hungary.