Under a temporary regulation, the NSW government is allowing the virtual witnessing of legal documents during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, the state government said: “Video conferencing technology like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and Zoom can now be used in the witnessing of important legal documents like wills, powers of attorney and statutory declarations under a new regulation.”
This allowance will help to reduce face-to-face contact. “Thousands of legal documents are executed every day in the presence of one or more witnesses, but COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for many people to do so in person,” Attorney General Mark Speakman said.
The audio-visual link used to witness a document must be “continuous and contemporaneous”.
The witness will then sign the document, or a copy of the document, to confirm that they witnessed the document over a video conferencing platform. Digital platforms such as Lawpath are now offering end-to-end services for online witnessing and signing.
The full requirements of the new regulations can be viewed here. Traditional methods are still valid whilst this temporary allowance is in place.
The categories of people who are authorised to witness documents during COVID-19 has also been expanded, in line with federal legislation.
NSW is the first state in Australia to allow legal documents to be witnessed using an audio-visual link, and other states may soon follow. The state governments of Queensland and Victoria have discussed such regulations in Parliament. By contrast, the South Australia government’s emergency COVID-19 regulations stipulate that the witnessing requirements of documents must still be done in person.
In Australia marriage ceremonies are not taking place virtually during COVID-19. This is one of the allowances were there can be five people in the one place (though social distancing measures, where there is a 1.5-metre gap between each person, must still be carried out). These five people are the celebrant, the two people getting married, and two witnesses.
The state of New York has allowed for weddings to be done over video conferencing platforms.