The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has prepared the following guidance for lawyers on witnessing and signing legal documentation during Alert Level 3. This guidance is based on legal advice taken by the Law Society. It updates our earlier guidance on signing legal documents during Alert Level 3, sent via the Law Society’s Covid-19 email update on 30 April and our Property Law Section’s email update of 24 April 2020. This information is intended to assist lawyers to manage situations where it is not possible to witness and sign legal documentation remotely.
The primary purpose of Alert Level 3 is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Anyone in an area covered by Alert Level 3 must remain at their current home or place of residence, except for essential personal movement, and maintain physical distancing. These restrictions mean some people won’t be able to execute important documents remotely in a manner that complies with formal legal requirements. Examples include wills, enduring powers of attorney, and Authority and Instruction Forms for e-dealings. The guidance provided will help you work with your clients to enable them to navigate these complexities.
The provision of mobile business services is not prohibited under Alert Level 3. Therefore a lawyer can lawfully provide services at a client’s private dwelling or public place under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Levels 3 and 2) Order 2020 provided relevant infection control measures have been taken and physical distancing is maintained at all times. An example of a service would be enabling the signing and witnessing of documents to meet formal legal requirements.
In-person witnessing/signing of documents should be done as a last resort only. If a client is able to make suitable arrangements to execute the documents remotely, or if the execution of the documents is not urgent, then you should not attend your client’s private dwelling (or a public place) for this purpose.
If you decide to go ahead with in-person witnessing/signing of documents then keep the number of people you have contact with to an absolute minimum, ideally just one person. You must record the contact details of all people present and supply your own to your client if they do not already have them.
A COVID-19 Safety Plan (including relevant infection control measures and physical distancing) must be put in place (by the firm or the sole practitioner) before undertaking this work. Before considering in-person witnessing/signing of documents you must consider whether this can occur remotely, including whether any accompanying legal advice can be given over the telephone.
Information you should provide to clients includes:
The Law Society has received further advice that clients cannot attend your law firm or use your carpark to sign documentation. The only stated exception to on-premises client contact prohibition (including car park contact) is the collection of goods – this does not extend to services.