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The Electronic Transactions Bill, which sets out the legal framework for electronic transactions and connected matters, was approved in the Senate yesterday (Dec. 8).
Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator, A. J. Nicholson, who piloted the Bill, noted that the legislation “above all, encourages trustworthy commerce in this computer age.it seeks to eliminate barriers to electronic commerce, resulting from uncertainties over writing and signature requirements.”
According to Senator Nicholson, manual transactions were becoming outdated and inconvenient and at times more expensive for consumers. “The need for the Bill is clear since over the last several years, there has been an increase in the number of organisations that offer e-government, e-commerce and e-banking services,” he stated.
As such, he pointed out, the legislation would establish uniformity of legal rules and standards regarding the authentication and integrity of electronic communications and facilitate electronic filing of information held by the government.
Under the provisions of the Act, electronic documents are admissible in a court of law, however the existing legal formalities for manual writing would continue to apply to last wills and testaments, conveyance of land matters, instruments of transfer of property, performance of a trust or power of attorney and other matters relating to law. The aim, Senator Nicholson said, was to protect the integrity of these transactions.
“None of these shall be done electronically. Land and real property are said to be among the most prized possessions. The history of such transactions has made it necessary for the courts and the state to develop a number of checks and balances,” he pointed out.
“The government sees it as prudent at this time, to continue with the traditional ways of performing and proving such transactions as exists in several jurisdictions,” he added.
Opposition Senator Shirley Williams, while supporting the Bill, noted that the legislation did not address the issue of a middle person being in receipt of electronic information on behalf of an intended recipient. She argued that the recipient should not be held accountable if there was a loss or change of data, especially as the Act assumed that he or she was in receipt of such information, especially where this information related to matters of contracts between the sender and receiver.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Anthony Hylton, said that although such concerns were founded, these were adequately covered under other legislation, where the intermediary party would be held liable for causing unlawful changes to a document that was in transit to its intended recipient.
He noted further that there was a specific clause in the Act, to protect both sender and receiver of electronic messages or other information, from undue abuse.
Senator Nicholson informed that during the Bill’s development, it was circulated and gathered input from public and private sector entities and these contributions were taken into account.