The Law Commission of England and Wales has published, on 16 March 2022, a Report and Draft Bill on Electronic Trade Documents, following a public consultation as part of its significant law reform project seeking to enable the legal recognition of certain trade documents in electronic form. The current law, heavily based on paper-based trade practices, does not adequately accommodate the use of electronic trade documents. The project is seeking to remove this legal barrier for electronic trade documents by giving them the same legal effects as their paper counterparts, which would unlock significant potential for international trade with increased efficiency, resilience, and financial and environmental benefits.
Research produced by members of the Centre for Commercial Law (CCL) has been used by the Law Commission during its project. Dr Burcu Yüksel Ripley’s blog article, entitled “Transition to Paperless Trade to Mitigate COVID-19 Impact on International Trade” and published in the CCL’s blog series on Commercial Law and COVID-19, is quoted in the Law Commission’s Report at the outset and in its preceding Consultation Paper. The consultation response written by Dr Burcu Yüksel Ripley and Dr Alisdair MacPherson on behalf of the CCL at the project’s public consultation stage is referred to extensively throughout the Report.
Dr Yüksel Ripley and Dr MacPherson observe that there is a pressing need for law reform in the UK in this area to facilitate the use of technology in trade, provide legal certainty and predictability regarding the legal status of electronic trade documents, and give these documents the legal recognition that their paper counterparts have. They add that this will significantly help speed up the overdue transition to paperless trade, which will better safeguard and maintain the global flow of information relating to the trade in goods and build resilience to shocks such as COVID-19.