Cyprus on its way to welcoming a new digital era

The Covid-19 pandemic has, undoubtedly, increased the need for adopting different digital technologies in all economic, industrial and business sectors.

Cyprus has taken considerable steps towards the adoption of digital technologies by incorporating the provisions of Regulation 910/2014/EU (hereinafter the “Regulation”), in its national legislation with the enactment of Law 55(I)/18 (hereinafter the” Law”). Both the Law and Regulation establish a legal framework for e-signatures, e-seals, e-documents and in general all forms of electronic identification.

Additionally, on the 1st of March 2020, the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy was established, one of the most important goals of which, is the adoption of a national digital policy and the creation of a powerful digital economy.

As the Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy says, more digital services will be made available for the public in a few months.  Such services seem to include the issuance of a certified copy of birth certificate, the transfer of immovable property to an individual or even the registration of a company with the Registrar of Companies.

What the Deputy Minister has initiated to do is to take small steps to automate services in all ministries and departments for the benefit of individuals and businesses. These actions were part of a long-term, two or three year plan, but as it seems, efforts are being made for the necessary procedures to be concluded within the following months.

An example of the goals set by the Government concerns the Citizens Service Centres which up to now used to accept around 1,000 visitors per day. The goal is to offer services electronically so that the above number will be reduced to 100 to 200 visitors per day.

Other government departments that seem to be in imminent need for digital upgrade is the Registrar of Companies, the Town Planning and Housing Department and the Land Registry, while large projects such as the digitalization of hospitals and courts are estimated to continue according to plan.

Additionally, the Government seems to be in consultation with the Association of Cyprus Banks so as to permit to individuals and businesses to conclude their transactions electronically without being necessary for them to be physically present in order to sign the appropriate documents.

What is in fact stressed by the Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, is that the acquisition of an e-signature, in compliance with the provisions of the Law and Regulation, is a necessary precondition for the said services to be carried out electronically.

According to the Regulation, an e-signature can be obtained by a qualified trust service provider. Currently, in Cyprus, there is only one provider listed in the Trusted List Browser that is authorized to provide certificates for qualified e-signatures and that is, JCC Payment Systems Ltd.  The Cyprus Stock Exchange, has assumed the role of a local registration authority mediating between the applicant and the trusted provider for the issuance of a qualified certificate for e-signatures. It is noted that according to the Regulation the acquisition of a qualified signature shall have the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature (Article 25).

Of course, the legal effect of e-signatures remains to be seen, as, there is no relevant case law indicating how documents bearing an e-signature will be treated by Cyprus Courts. However, it seems that the Cyprus Government is placing the project of introducing digital technologies in everyday transactions at its top priorities while it is commonly admitted that the coronavirus crisis has made the Government to review and reshape its way of thinking and take considerable steps towards the creation of a new era which will respond more effectively to the needs this new state of affairs.