foreword

Smarter contracts, blockchain technology and digital assets are transforming business processes across commercial, legal and financial sectors. The 2020s is the digital decade. Everyone will need to improve their understanding of these crucial technologies and how the law supports their utilisation.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls

Introduction

What if you could have an executive assistant to manage your contracts? They would label them correctly, file them, find the ones you need when you need them, notify relevant people of their existence and contents, remind you about key dates and important conditions and what you are required to do by when. Your contract assistant would pay people when they deliver and ask the right questions if something went wrong. They would flag up opportunities to renegotiate or when something needs to change, help you compare the terms and conditions in different contracts, and put reports together for you.

The technology is already here. Find out how smarter contracts can make organisations smarter too.

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Our focus is on legally binding digital contracts that are smarter and better than conventional contracts. 

By digital contract we mean a legal agreement in a digital format, as contrasted with a conventional contract in a static Word-processed format. A digital contract is machine readable. A Word document is not. 

This includes ‘smart legal contracts’ by which we mean legally enforceable contracts where some (or all) of the natural language terms are represented by machine readable code. They are a subset of digital contracts. But we are not talking about ‘smart contracts’ that are simply coded persistent scripts rather than being a contract in the legal sense.

Smarter contracts are about applying technology to the contractual process - to a greater or lesser extent. This ranges from simple applications like electronic signatures all the way through to sophisticated ‘self-executing’ contracts. 

Smarter Contracts

Smarter contracts are already changing the way we live and work for the better.

LawtechUK's Smarter Contracts project has identified important examples of how technology is transforming contracts used across key industries and sectors.

The case studies demonstrate digital-first solutions to real-world problems: electronic signatures, contract automation and management, insurance, renewable energy, financial services, trade, sale of goods and services, logistics and transportation, the digital representation and ownership of physical assets, sport sponsorship, and home buying and selling.

The digital company case study explores additional opportunities that smarter contracts offer companies and institutions to unlock the benefits of a digital economy that are not available when using traditional corporate forms.

Read the Smarter Contracts report

The UK's position

English law and the UK jurisdictions provide a strong legal foundation for the mainstream use of smarter contracts. LawtechUK’s UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT) has previously shown the way with its Legal Statement on Cryptoassets and Smart Contracts and its Digital Dispute Resolution Rules. The Law Commission’s advice on smart contracts built on the conclusions reached by the UKJT, with several related Law Commission projects underway that will further support the use of smarter contracts and advance the UK as a global leader for technological innovation.

Technical foundations to support the digitisation of commercial and legal documents are also being developed through initiatives such as the UK Legal Schema.

UKJT Legal Statement on Cryptoassets and Smart Contracts

This landmark statement seeks to address legal uncertainty by recognising cryptoassets as tradable property and smart contracts as enforceable agreements under English law. It takes significant steps to address uncertainty, answering critical questions as to their classification and characterisation. By providing investors with increased confidence of their rights, the statement helps to provide a dependable foundation for mainstream utilisation of cryptoassets and smart contracts.
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UKJT Digital Dispute Resolution Rules

Rules to facilitate rapid and cost-effective dispute resolution in our digital world, particularly disputes involving new technologies such as smart legal contracts, blockchain and digital assets. They allow for arbitrators or experts to implement decisions very quickly and directly on-chain using a private key and for the optional anonymity of the parties.
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Law Commission Projects

The Law Commission has concluded that electronic signatures can be used to execute documents and that the existing law of England and Wales is clearly able to facilitate and support the use of smart legal contracts, providing an ideal platform for the use of a wide range of smarter contracts in practice. The Law Commission’s related work on electronic trade documents, digital assets and conflict of laws will further support the use of smarter contracts.
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UK Legal Schema

As part of the Lawtech Sandbox, the UK Legal Schema was developed as an open-source initiative to develop a universal common language for creating and managing legal documents as data. Open standards and frameworks like this initiative will continue to be critical to accelerating the use of digital documents and data collaboration.
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Courses and Resources

LawtechUK has created short courses and collated key resources for you to explore at your own pace to deepen your understanding of smarter contracts and digital assets.

LawtechUK Smart Contracts Course

Learn the fundamentals of smart legal contracts, and the various means and benefits of automating contractual performance.
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LawtechUK Distributed Ledger (Blockchain) Technology Course

Learn the fundamentals of blockchain technology and how it is used to create transparent and verifiable records.
Learn More

Discover more resources

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