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Signing of Financial Statements Using a Cloud-Based Qualified Electronic Signature, with a Brief Overview of Electronic Signatures Used in Serbia

28 May 2022 Europe

As of March 23, 2022, the Serbian Business Registers Agency enabled the use of cloud-based qualified electronic signature for the purpose of creating and submission of financial statements. In relation thereto, there is also a brief overview of the different types of electronic signatures used in Serbia below.

The respective signature certificates are issued free of charge by the Serbian Office for IT and eGovernment, while its Portal for Electronic Identification provides the necessary information and instructions regarding the activation of the aforesaid certificate and mobile application “ConsentID”, as well as procedures for cloud-based signing of documents.

According to the notice published on the website of the Business Registers Agency, in the upcoming period, the subject authority will also enable the use of cloud-based qualified electronic certificate in other applications available on its website, as well as the use of cloud-based qualified electronic signature certificates issued by other certification authorities registered in the Register of Qualified Trust Service Providers.

What is a qualified electronic signature?

The Law on Electronic Document, Electronic Identification and Trust Services in Electronic Operations (Official Gazette of RS no. 94/2017 and 52/2021) (hereinafter: “the Law”) defines the qualified electronic signature as the advanced electronic signature made by qualified tools for electronic signature creation, based on the qualified electronic signature certificate issued by the provider of qualified trust service in accordance with this law.

Accordingly, the qualified electronic signature is a set of electronic data used for the establishing of identity and authenticity of a person signing the document, validity of the signed data, and ensuring of their protection during transfer, whereby it is being “qualified” because it is issued by the competent certification authority (e.g., Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Interior, etc.).

The qualified electronic signature has a widespread use – in day-to-day operations (e.g., for concluding of contracts, authorising of bank transactions, issuing of invoices etc.), as well as in different proceedings before competent authorities (e.g., under the decision of the Court of Appeals of Niš Gž no. 1664/20 dated September 16, 2020, the appeal filed by the authorised attorney in electronic form, which is not signed by the qualified electronic certificate, is deemed incomplete given that it does not include all necessary elements, i.e., signature of the applicant, therefore it is rejected).

However, according to the Law, agreements and other documents that pursuant to a special law need to be made in the form of signature certification, solemnized or as public notary documents, cannot be signed electronically, i.e., by the qualified electronic signature (but in accordance with regulations governing the signature certification, verification and creating of documents on legal transactions).

Other types of electronic signatures used in Serbia

Besides the qualified electronic signature, the Law also stipulates a “regular” electronic signature, which is defined as a set of data in electronic form, associated or logically connected with other (signed) data in electronic form, so that the electronic signature certifies the integrity of such data and identity of its signatory. Additionally, there is an advanced electronic signature, which according to the Law represents the electronic signature that meets additional requirements to provide a higher level of reliability of verification of data integrity and identity of the signatory, in accordance with this law.

The bottom-line difference between the qualified and “regular” electronic signature is in their legal effect – the non-qualified electronic signature has legal effect and may therefore be used as evidence provided that the applicable regulations do not stipulate the obligation to execute a written document on particular legal transaction (e.g., it cannot be used for legally valid conclusion of sale and purchase agreements regarding the real estate).

Accordingly, the electronic signature can be used for signing of documents that do not need to be made in written form to be valid under the regulations – e.g., for signing of internal and company documents of minor importance, which would be legally valid and binding even if done solely in oral form (in which case the written form represents only a proof of their content).