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''Legal instrument'' is a
legal Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundari ...
term of art Jargon is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. Jargon is normally employed in a particular Context (language use), communicative context and may not be well understood outside that context. The conte ...
that is used for any formally executed written
document A document is a writing, written, drawing, drawn, presented, or memorialized representation of thought, often the manifestation of nonfiction, non-fictional, as well as fictional, content. The word originates from the Latin ''Documentum'', whic ...

document
that can be formally attributed to its author, records and formally expresses a legally enforceable act, process, or contractual duty, obligation, or right, and therefore evidences that act, process, or agreement.''Barron's Law Dictionary'', s.v. "instrument". Examples include a
certificate Certificate may refer to: * Birth certificate * Marriage certificate * Death certificate * Gift certificate * Certificate of authenticity, a document or seal certifying the authenticity of something * Certificate of deposit, or CD, a financial produ ...
,
deed In common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or ) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ' is the most-used legal dictionary use ...

deed
,
bond Bond or bonds may refer to: Common meanings * Bond (finance) In finance Finance is the study of financial institutions, financial markets and how they operate within the financial system. It is concerned with the creation and management of ...
,
contract A contract is a legally binding agreement that defines and governs the rights and duties between or among its parties Image:'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Skagen', by Peder Severin Krøyer (1888) Demisted with DXO PhotoLab Clearview ...

contract
,
will Will may refer to: Common meanings * Will and testament A will or testament is a legal document that expresses a person's ( testator) wishes as to how their property (estate (law), estate) is to be distributed after their death and as to which ...
,
legislative act Legislation is law which has been promulgation, promulgated (or "enactment of a bill, enacted") by a legislature or other Government, governing body or the process of making it. Before an item of legislation becomes law it may be known as a bill (p ...
, notarial act, court
writ In , a writ (Anglo-Saxon ''gewrit'', Latin ''breve'') is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial ; in modern usage, this body is generally a . , s, s, and are common types of writ, but many forms exist and have ...

writ
or process, or any
law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its bounda ...
passed by a competent
legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) who use parliamentary procedure Parliamentary procedure i ...
in
municipal A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, ...

municipal
(domestic) or
international law International law, also known as public international law and law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between nation A nation is a community A community is a social unitThe term "level of anal ...
. Many legal instruments were written ''under seal'' by affixing a wax or paper
seal Seal may refer to any of the following: Common uses * Pinniped Pinnipeds (pronounced ), commonly known as seals, are a widely range (biology), distributed and diverse clade of carnivorous, fin-footed, List of semiaquatic tetrapods, semiaqu ...
to the document in evidence of its legal execution and
authenticity Authenticity or authentic may refer to: * Authentication, the act of confirming the truth of an attribute Arts and entertainment * Authenticity in art, ways in which a work of art or an artistic performance may be considered authentic Music * Au ...
(which often removed the need for
consideration Consideration is a concept of English law, English common law and is a necessity for simple contracts but not for special contracts (contracts by deed). The concept has been adopted by other common law jurisdictions. The court in ''Currie v Mis ...
in
contract A contract is a legally binding agreement that defines and governs the rights and duties between or among its parties Image:'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Skagen', by Peder Severin Krøyer (1888) Demisted with DXO PhotoLab Clearview ...

contract
law). However, today many jurisdictions have done away with the requirement of documents being under seal in order to give them legal effect.


Electronic legal documents

With the onset of the Internet and electronic equipment such as the personal computers and cell-phones, legal instruments or formal legal documents have undergone a progressive change of dematerialisation. In this electronic age, document
authentication Authentication (from ''authentikos'', "real, genuine", from αὐθέντης ''authentes'', "author") is the act of proving an assertion, such as the identity Identity may refer to: Social sciences * Identity (social science), person ...
can now be verified digitally using various software. All documents needing authentication can be processed as digital documents with all the necessary information such as date and time stamp imbedded. To prevent tampering or unauthorized changes to the original document,
encryption In cryptography Cryptography, or cryptology (from grc, , translit=kryptós "hidden, secret"; and ''graphein'', "to write", or ''-logy, -logia'', "study", respectively), is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in ...

encryption
is used. In modern times, authentication is no longer limited to the type of paper used, the specialized seal, stamps, etc., as document authentication software helps secure the original context. The use of electronic legal documents is most prominent in the United States' courts. Most American courts prefer the filing of electronic legal documents over paper. However, there is not yet a public law to unify the different standards of document authentication. Therefore, one must know the court's requirement before filing court papers. To address part of this concern, the United States Congress enacted the
Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN, , ) is a United States federal law The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States ...
in 2000 (P.L. 106-229 of 2000, 15 USCS sec. 7001) specifying that no court could thereafter fail to recognize a contract simply because it was digitally signed. The law is very permissive, making essentially any electronic character in a contract sufficient. It is also quite restrictive in that it does not force the recognition of some document types in electronic form, no matter what the electronic character might be. No restriction is made to signatures which are adequately cryptographically tied to both the document text (see
message digest ) at work. A small change in the input (in the word "over") drastically changes the output (digest). This is the so-called avalanche effect. A cryptographic hash function (CHF) is a mathematical algorithm of an algorithm (Euclid's algorithm) ...
) and to a particular
key Key or The Key may refer to: Common meanings * Key (cryptography), a piece of information that controls the operation of a cryptography algorithm * Key (lock), device used to control access to places or facilities restricted by a lock * Key (map) ...
whose use should be restricted to certain persons (e.g., the alleged sender). There is thus a gap between what the cryptographic engineering can provide and what the law assumes is both possible and meaningful. Several states had already enacted laws on the subject of electronic legal documents and signatures before the U.S. Congress had acted, including Utah, Washington, and California to name only a few of the earliest. They vary considerably in intent, coverage, cryptographic understanding, and effect. Several other nations and international bodies have also enacted statutes and regulations regarding the validity and binding nature of
digital signature A digital signature is a mathematical scheme for verifying the authenticity of digital messages or documents. A valid digital signature, where the prerequisites are satisfied, gives a recipient very strong reason to believe that the message was ...

digital signature
s. To date, the variety (and inadequacy) of the definitions used for digital signatures (or electronic signatures) have produced a legal and contractual minefield for those who may be considering relying on the legality and enforceability of digitally signed contracts in any of many jurisdictions. Adequate legislation adequately informed by cryptographic engineering technology remains an elusive goal. That it has been fully, or adequately, achieved (in any jurisdiction) is a claim which must be taken with considerable caution.


See also

*
Legal coding Legal coding is the process of creating summary or keyword data from a document. It is widely used in the legal professionLegal profession is a profession A Profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and ...
*
Legal document assistant A legal document assistant (LDA, also commonly known as "document technician," "legal document preparer," "legal technician," "online legal document provider" and "legal document clerk") in the United States is a non-lawyer authorized to assist with ...


References


External links


A framework and infrastructure for assuring legal strength in digital interactions
{{DEFAULTSORT:Legal Instrument Legal documents