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Legal instrument is a
legal Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. ...
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'', w ...
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,
deed In common law, a deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdiction (area), jurisdictions, seal (emblem), sealed. It is com ...
, bond,
contract A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more Party (law), parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, Service (economics), ser ...
,
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, notarial act, court
writ In common law, a writ (Anglo-Saxon ''gewrit'', Latin ''breve'') is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction; in modern usage, this body is generally a court. Warrant (legal), Warrants, prerogative wri ...
or process, or any
law Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. ...
passed by a competent
legislative body A legislature is an deliberative assembly, assembly with the authority to make laws for a Polity, political entity such as a Sovereign state, country or city. They are often contrasted with the Executive (government), executive and Judiciary, ...
in
municipal A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unit,Article 3(1). country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, constituent state, as well as many similar terms, are ge ...
(domestic) or
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. Many legal instruments were written ''under seal'' by affixing a wax or paper seal to the document in evidence of its legal execution and authenticity (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 enforceable agreement between two or more Party (law), parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, Service (economics), ser ...
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 proof (truth), proving an Logical assertion, assertion, such as the Digital identity, identity of a computer system user. In ...
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, encryption is the process of Code, encoding information. This process converts the original representation of the information, known as plaintext, into an alternative form known as ciphertext. Ideally, only authorized parties can ...
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 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) and to a particular key 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 high confidence that the message was created b ...
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 document assistant


References


External links


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