The electronic signature and the (new) Belgian law of evidence (part 2)

Evidential value of electronic signatures

Since evidential value is independent of the validity of an electronic signature, the question that arises in this regard is whether this type of signature meets the requirements set by the legislature. Evidential value refers only to the extent to which the electronic signature convinces the court that a disputed fact corresponds to the truth (art. 8.1,14° BW; B. ALLERMEERSCH (ed.), “Overzicht van rechtspraak – Het Burgerlijk Bewijsrecht (2000-2013)”, TPR 2015, 597).

This section describes the evidentiary value for each of the different types of electronic signature and any requirements in agreements to do so.


  1. Authentic vs. private document.

Regarding agreements, Belgian law distinguishes between authentic (i) and private deeds/agreements (ii).

Authentic documents must be executed by a public or ministerial official with the power and capacity to instrument.

Private documents are all agreements drawn up between the parties, signed by them and to which they intend certain legal effects.

Belgian law makes no distinction as to how these agreements must be signed, but merely states that the integrity of the bearer must be able to be guaranteed:

Art. 8.1.BW:

Wordt verstaan onder:

geschrift: een geheel van alfabetische tekens of van enige andere verstaanbare tekens aangebracht op een drager die de mogelijkheid biedt toegang ertoe te hebben gedurende een periode die is afgestemd op het doel waarvoor de informatie kan dienen en waarbij de integriteit ervan wordt beschermd, welke ook de drager en de transmissiemogelijkheden zijn;


The following definitions shall apply:

writing: a set of alphabetic characters or of any other intelligible signs affixed to a medium which allows access to it for a period of time appropriate to the purpose for which the information may serve and where its integrity is protected, whatever the medium and means of transmission;


Therefore, the legal effect of all three forms of electronic signature and their admissibility as evidence in judicial proceedings may not be denied merely on the grounds that the signature is electronic or does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures (i.e., the prohibition of discrimination) (Art. 25(1) eIDAS-verrodening; P. VAN EECKE en F. DE ROUCK, Recht & elektronische handel, Mortsel, Intersentia, 2021, 249).


  1. Evidential value by category
  • Qualified electronic signature

In principle, only the qualified electronic signature will be automatically qualified as a legally valid signature within the meaning of Art. 8.18 of the Civil Code (assimilation principle).

Consequently, the qualified signature will automatically be recognized in other EU member states, as it is also covered by the eIDAS Regulation.

Authentic instruments will be required to be accompanied by a qualified signature, in addition to the required presence of a public or ministerial official.

The qualified signature ensures full verification of authenticity and integrity of the document.


  • Advanced electronic signature

Despite the fact that the advanced electronic signature is valid in principle, it will only constitute legally valid evidence of a contract if this can be made sufficiently plausible in a dispute (i) and the law does not impose any specific (i.e. stricter) signature formalities for the contract in question (ii) (art. 8.25 BW).  

However, the advanced signature will also guarantee the necessary control of authenticity and integrity of the document. The advanced signature offers the following guarantees:

  1. uniquely linked to the signatory;
  2. it allows identification of the signatory;
  3. based on the data for the creation of electronic signatures that the signatory, with a high level of confidence, can use under his sole control; and
  4. linked to the data signed with it in such a way that any subsequent modification of the data can be detected (art. 26 eIDAS-Verordening).

If the judge rules that the signature is not sufficiently reliable, then the judge is free to determine the probative value of this signature. In principle, this signature will then count as the beginning of proof by writing (art. 8.13 BW).


  • Ordinary electronic signature

The same applies to the ordinary electronic signature. Parties to a contract will, as with the advanced electronic signature, have to be able to make it sufficiently plausible that the signature is valid and that the law does not impose more stringent requirements.

However, if a judge rules that the ordinary or advanced signature is sufficiently reliable, these signatures in principle acquire the same legal effect as a handwritten signature.

If the judge rules that the signature is not sufficiently reliable, then the judge is free to determine the probative value of this signature. In principle, this signature will then count as the beginning of proof by writing (art. 8.13 BW).

It goes without saying that an ordinary electronic signature will be easier to challenge than an advanced or qualified signature because of the lack of additional verification of integrity and authenticity.


  1. Possibility of evidence agreements

However, the aforementioned rules of evidence are of supplementary law, so they may be derogated from by agreement by the parties, who may contractually define the probative value attributed to certain documents (artikel 8.2 BW).

This allows the introduction of clauses that establish the probative value of an electronically signed version. Consequently, an evidentiary value can be attached to each of the three types of signature, which will not be able to be modified later by a judge (B. VANLERBERGHE, “De krachtlijnen van het nieuwe burgerlijke bewijsrecht” in T. VANSWEEVELT en B. WEYTS (eds.), Het nieuwe bewijsrecht, Brussel, Intersentia, 2020, 14); P. VAN EECKE en F. DE ROUCK, “De elektronische overeenkomst” in P. VAN EECKE (ed.), Recht & elektronische handel, Antwerpen, Intersentia, 2021, 249 ; 1 I. SAMOY en W. VANDENBUSSCHE, “Het nieuwe bewijsrecht” in Themis 108 –Verbintenissenrecht, Brugge, die Keure/la Charte, 2019, 122; A. CORNE en K. MEERT, “De elektronische handtekening onder het nieuwe bewijsrecht ontleed: van inadequaat gedefinieerd instrument naar onmisbare tool in tijden van social distancing”, Notariaat 2021, Afl. 14-15, 1-6)

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