The law no. 4272/2020(gov. gazette A’ 184/23-09-2020) titled: “Digital Governance (Incorporation of the EU Directives no. 2016/2102 and 2019/1024 into the Greek National Legislation) – Digital Communications (Incorporation of the EU Directive no. 2018/197 into the National Legislation) and other provisions” attempts to modernize the Public Sector’s administration and sync it to the digital era. In the first part of the law (Caption D articles 12-16) general provisions about digital documents are set forth, including the procedure of edition, transmittance, registration and archiving of digital documents, as well as information on the force and the probative value of digital documents and their printouts.
Mandatory use of Information and Communications Technology
Article 13 of the above caption once more underlines the public sector’s obligation to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for its functional needs and for supporting the execution of its responsibilities and transactions with natural persons and legal entities. This obligation reflects the citizens’ right to participate in transactions with the public sector through ICT. As a result, any transaction relating to documents, from its creation to its archiving must be fully – or at least partially – executed digitally. This results in the existence of exclusively electronic documents, which are categorized in electronic originals, electronic copies and digitalized electronic copies. The type of the digital document determines its force and probative value.
The original digital public documents
Original digital public documents bear a qualified electronic time stamp (electronic data which prove that some other data existed at a specific moment in time) and either a qualified electronic time stamp or a qualified electronic signature of the competent public entity. These documents have the same legal force and probative value as public documents with handwritten signature and stamp. As a result, they have evidentiary value, according to article 438 of Greek Civil Procedure Code (CPC), for the actions and facts certified of being considered by the author-public officer, and according to article 440 (CPC) for the facts certified in the public document, the validity of which had to be inspected by the author. Narratively mentioned facts too, which are directly related to the main content of the document (article 441 par.2 CPC) also have evidentiary value. Finally, these documents are mandatorily accepted by public sector entities, courts of all instance and public prosecutor’s offices, individual or legal entities when transmitted in digital format.
These are categorized to true copies and digitalized electronic copies. True copies must bear not only the indication “true copy” and the information of the signing authority, but also a qualified electronic time-stamp and either the qualified electronic stamp of the authority or the qualified electronic signature of the authority responsible for the issuing the copy. Digitalized electronic copies are created through the digitalization of printed public or private documents by public authorities with the use of ICT. They bear a qualified electronic time-stamp and either the qualified electronic stamp or the qualified electronic signature of the public authority that digitalizes the document, as well as the certification that the document is identical to the printed document. According to the second and third paragraph of the article 14 electronic copies are considered true copies when sent in digital format and therefore have the same probative force as the original, according to article 441 par. 1 CPC.
Finally, it is noted that the above-mentioned authorities and services have the obligation to also recognize and accept electronic private documents, issued by natural or legal entities with the use of qualified electronic signature or qualified electronic stamp, when transmitted in digital format.
The issue regarding printouts of electronic documents.
Handling printouts of the electronic documents has proven to be an issue, especially when it comes to their certification. This issue seems to be resolved for good by articles 14 par. 4 for public documents, and article 15 par.2 for private documents. Printouts of original electronic public documents, electronic true copies or a digitalized electronic copies must be accepted with the force of a true copy without being certified, as long as the accuracy and validity of the printouts can be confirmed with the use of ICT, especially when there is the possibility to verify their authenticity in the public information system using their unique identification number.
On the contrary, in case the accuracy and validity of the printout cannot be confirmed, it must be certified by any public authority, a Citizens’ Service Centre or a lawyer. The electronic private printouts must be accepted if they bear a certification as mentioned above, which confirms that the printout’s content is identical to that of the electronic document.
It is self-evident that the mandatory use of electronic documents will act as a catalyst for the acceleration and modernization of the public sector and for the improvement of citizen’s service. Now all is left is to see to what extent both public services as well as citizens will adjust to the new digital reality.