Monday, December 11, 2017

Counterparts Clauses and Virtual Signing

The possibility of all parties to a contract being available in the same place at the same time for signing and execution of an agreement is increasingly limited, especially where transactions involve multiple parties. Accordingly, the practice of “virtual signing” has developed in recent years. In light of this, a joint working party of the Law Society Company Law Committee and the Company Law and Financial Law Committees of the City of London Law Society has published a guidance note (the “Guidance”) to overcome some of the practical hurdles of virtual signing.

Virtual signings 

Practically, it may be both: (a) problematic for everyone who is required to sign an agreement to be physically present for signing; and (b) difficult to post an agreement due to time constraints. Accordingly, the practice of “virtual signings” has developed whereby an agreement can be executed without the parties meeting and in which signature pages to a relevant agreement are executed in advance of the final agreement and subsequently transferred to the final form. As English case law has shown, in the case of R (on the Application of Mercury Tax Group Limited and another) v HMRC [2008] EWHC 2721 (“Mercury”), a signature on an incomplete draft deed or contract, as the case may be, cannot be transferred to execute the final form. Following the decision in Mercury, the Guidance provides various options for effectively executing English law-governed agreements at virtual signings. Such options are non-exhaustive, however, and each transaction should be considered according to its own facts. By way of example, some of the options included in the Guidance provide as follows:

1. Where a document is signed in counterparts by each party, the following steps may be taken:

  • parties should make arrangements for signing ahead of finalising the document; 
  • when the documents are finalised, the final execution copies of the documents are emailed (as pdf or Word attachments) to all absent parties; 
  • each absent signatory prints and signs the signature page only; 
  • each absent party then returns a single email attaching (a) the finalised document; and (b) the signed signature page or, in the absence of attaching the final document, the absent party should give authority to attach the signed signature page to the final approved version of the document; and 
  • a final version of the document, together with copies of the executed signature pages, may be circulated to the parties to evidence the execution of the final document. The printed execution version of the document with the attached signed signature pages will constitute an original signed document. 

2. Where the signature pages of a document are pre-signed before the document is finalised, the following steps may be taken:

  • parties should make arrangements for signing ahead of finalising the document; 
  • before signing, the signature pages relating to the document still being negotiated should be circulated to each absent party; 
  • the absent signatories sign the signature page which should be returned and subsequently held until authority is given for it to be attached to the document; 
  • the finalised document should be emailed to each absent party and confirmation should be sought from the party (or its advisors) that the final version is agreed; the pre-signed signature page may be attached to the final document once authorisation has been given by the absent party (or its advisors) and the document may be released and dated. 

The printed final agreed document with the attached pre-signed signature pages will constitute the original signed document.

Counterparts clause 

As referred in option 1 above, it is possible to sign a contract in counterparts. An English law-governed agreement may not be invalidated by the fact that it does not contain a counterparts clause, although a contract that does contain one clarifies that separate copies of an agreement may be executed by different parties and each copy will be considered to be an original. It is considered prudent to include a counterparts clause if there is a possibility that the agreement will be executed by counterparts. Including such a clause will limit a party claiming that an agreement is not binding because there is no one copy of the agreement that is signed by all parties.

Omani legislation 

Omani legislation provides for the legal formalities of the signing and execution of contracts in Oman. In particular, Sultani Decree 48/76 on the Signing Foreign and Domestic Financial Deals in the Sultanate of Oman (as amended), for example, sets out which individuals may sign and execute an agreement concluded in the name of His Majesty the Sultan or on his behalf or in the name of the Government of the Sultanate. However, in the absence of any note from the relevant Omani authorities detailing options for the signing and execution of Omani law-governed contracts in counterparts, it may be worth consulting with the Guidelines.


Executing an agreement in counterparts involves the various parties to the agreement signing separate (but matching) copies of the same document. Together, the various signed copies will form a single binding agreement, without the need for all the parties to sign the same copy of the agreement. Although not essential, it is usual practice to include a boilerplate clause specifically providing for an agreement to be executed in this way. Further, in order to avoid a similar situation as in the case of Mercury, where agreements are executed by “virtual” signing, it is useful to reflect upon the Guidelines.