I've seen this answer and this answer, but the answers don't entirely explain some things.

For example, long back my boss wanted my signature as a witness signature on a contract for one of his property deals. All other signatures were already on the contract, so I wasn't really a witness to the signatures. My uncle advised me that "if you were not a witness, then you don't have to sign". So I didn't.

My boss however had told me that a witness has no liability, so there is no issue in signing. Is that true?

For example, in this form, the witness has to mention their name in full and give their full address. In another form I've seen, the witness just has to mention their name and sign there.

From this website I got:

The underlying purpose of having a signature witnessed by a third party is for evidential reasons. The witness would be able to confirm that the signature on the agreement is indeed the signature of the party whose name appears.

In India a contract may be effective without any signatures being witnessed, although it is always advisable to have a contract attested by witnesses. In some countries, in order to be legally enforceable, the contract may have to be signed before a notary public. As different jurisdictions have different rules, always check the position before finalising the contract.

When a signature is witnessed, as well as signing, it is sensible for the witness to write their name in block capitals and insert their home address.

and from this answer, which says:

In India the undermentioned persons can be appointed as a Notary: a) a person who has been practicing at least for 10 years or b) a person belonging to scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes and has been practicing for at least seven years, or C) a woman who has been practicing at least for seven years as a legal practitioner or D) he has been a member of the Indian Legal Service under the Central Government or E) he has been at least for ten years - I) a member of Judicial Service or ii) held an office under the Central Government or a State Government requiring special knowledge of law after enrollment as an advocate;or iii) held an office in the department of Judge, Advocate General or in the Legal Department of the armed forces. Source: The Notaries Rules , 1956 as amended and subs by GSR 8-7-97and 5/1/2000. as amended by (Amendment)Rules, 2014. This is not an exact reproduction of the said rule but is only broadly for information. Pl. read rule 3 for details.

At least the above points make sense, because a notary is a person who knows the law, has the authority to be a witness and can even give the notary stamp for a confirmation. But if a common person signs as a witness, they might not even know what they are doing and might not know what their liability is, especially if the signatures were not done in front of them.

  1. So when a person requests for a witness signature, should they in good faith, first call the witnesses and sign in front of them? If the signature was not done in front of the witness and the witness still signs, what is the liability on the part of the witness? Can any punitive action be taken on the witness (the witness might not even mention their full/correct address)?

  2. If there is no liability, then couldn't a person simply put some fake signature and name, purporting that some witness had signed it (in case the document is genuine and they see no reason why someone would actually call the witness to establish the truth)?


Signing as a witness will not generally make you liable on a contract.

But, if you sign as a witness to something that you did not in fact witness, you could be liable for fraud or negligent misrepresentation is someone suffers harm as a result of you untrue statement that you witnessed the document being signed.

Usually you would be sued for whatever damages are caused plus pain and suffering plus punitive damages (the latter two limited in some states but not others in a variety of ways). It would probably be a crime as well if you had criminal intent, but it would be very unusual for a prosecutor to agree to prosecute an isolated case like this unless it was part of a larger criminal enterprise. A criminal sentence would usually depend on the amount of harm done and would often be a minor felony leading to a year or two in prison but states vary greatly on this.

  • Thank you. This is what I wanted to know. So what would be the minimum and maximum possible punishments possible, assuming a worst-case and not-so-bad-case scenarios? – Nav Oct 21 '16 at 7:58

As a witness, you should have seen everyone signing, or if you came to late to see them sign, then you should have at least asked each one if they signed. Otherwise you can't be a witness.

If the contract ever went to court because of doubts that it is genuine and the court sees something that looks like your name and signature, then you might get asked to come to the court. If that happens you either say "I didn't sign this, must be a forgery" or you say "I signed this, and I saw these people signing" or whatever is the truth.

  • So there's no scope for the witness to be penalized in any situation, right? – Nav Oct 17 '16 at 9:27
  • As long as you tell the truth when asked. – gnasher729 Oct 17 '16 at 13:01
  • That's exactly what I'm trying to establish. When questioned in court if the witness says "Yes that's my signature, but I didn't see those people signing it. The document was brought to me after they signed it", then that's the truth, but it isn't in good faith, because the contract expected the witness to actually witness the signature being done. So then can the witness be penalized in any way? Tom's answer below indicates penalty of perjury. Any remote chance that something like that can apply? – Nav Oct 18 '16 at 6:10

It depends on what you are witnessing, what you say in any witness declaration, whether the declaration is made under penalty of perjury, whether the declaration is true, and what jurisdiction's laws apply. What a witness may or may not be liable for is not universally established by any single law or set of laws.

protected by Community Jan 10 at 22:25

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