Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What a signature means

There was a case in the news a week or so ago, a director of a finance company has been charged with producing a false prospectus. Or something like that. Her defence was that her husband at the time had told here everything was alright, so she had signed it. Which, I don't think is a viable defence. The same thing has been in the news the past few days since the police decided not to charge John Banks with filing a false return. I accept that the police can't charge him because of the time lapsed - that's an issue I have with the laxity of the law rather than with the police or Banks. What I do have an issue with is Banks seeming to think that the fact that a volunteer had assured him that the return was alright was a viable defence. It's not. If any authority is to be put in legal documents, then the affixing your signature to a document has to mean that you are ready to stand behind everything said in the document. If it doesn't then we're left with the situation as described in the editorial of the dom-post this morning:
The minister's signature signifies nothing other than that he knows how to write his name. By no stretch of the imagination should its presence on a document be taken as evidence that he has read the document or stands by its contents
It doesn't matter if you're a company director, a pleb in the street or a minister of the crown. A large part of the day to day workings of our society is based on your signature signifying your understanding and acceptance of the document it is inscribed upon. It's why forgery is such a big deal - it abuses the trust that we place in signed documents. Banks's defence doesn't seek to fool us a a forged signature does. It does however suggest that his is a signature that we can little faith in.

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