Fast Way to Save a Fortune; E- COMMERCE,FINANCIAL MAIL

Article excerpt

Byline: RUTH SUNDERLAND

COMPANIES would save millions of pounds if they could communicate electronically with shareholders.

For example, Halifax is estimated to spend more than [pounds sterling]750,000 posting its annual report to its 3.6 million shareholders as required by law.

But the new e-commerce Bill, which is aimed at making the UK the best place to trade electronically by 2002, stops short of giving electronic mail the same status in law as sending items by post.

Instead, it is left to individual ministers to make regulations where they feel it is appropriate to give email equal legal status with the post.

In the same way, digital signatures - encoded electronic signatures that can be used to authenticate individuals - will not be given the same status as written signatures unless individual laws and regulations are changed.

Lawyers estimate that there may be as many as 40,000 UK laws and regulations requiring business transactions to be in writing, or needing written signatures.

The Department of Trade and Industry hopes to avoid rewriting every law by having appropriate codes of practice.

The first will cover company law. …