A worldwide standard for electronic contracts has received the backing of the world's business community. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has backed a UN convention designed to help countries to develop law for digital contracts.
Countries have until January 2008 to sign up to the UN Convention on Electronic Contracting, which has been drawn up to help developing countries to frame law that takes account of electronic negotiation and signing of contracts.
"We welcome the enhanced legal certainty and support for party autonomy which the convention provides," said Christopher Kuner, one of the ICC's experts in the area. "The other good news is that it allows for electronic communications to satisfy the requirements of other conventions without the need for those conventions to be re-negotiated."
Any country which wishes to adopt the proposals as law must not only sign up to the Convention but pass new legislation converting it into the law of that country.
The Convention will make little difference in Europe, but could prove of major assistance to developing nations.
"This is a good step forward, but it will make no real difference in the UK or Europe or places like Australia or the US that have good case law in place," said Jon Fell, a partner specialising in e-commerce at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.
"Where it will make a difference is in emerging countries and countries with emerging legal systems, like China," said Fell.
The convention was discussed this month at the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in New York. It provides further detail to previous UNCITRAL guidelines, including the influential model laws on e-commerce and e-signatures.
"The convention deals more with the nuts and bolts of how a contract is made," said Fell. "It is good because it creates a framework for these contracts."