Recently I've been pondering something. A lot of encounters with debt collector videos appear on YouTube and various other sites. These videos typically feature people arguing with debt collectors/debt enforcement officers about warrants & legality of entering the property. One of the most common lines you hear in these clips is "you need a wet ink signature for the warrant to be legal"

Is that actually true? If so, what does that actually mean in the eyes of the law?


I'm assuming you are talking about "warrants in debt" and not arrest warrants. A warrant in debt is that the creditor has filed with a court for the repayment of a debt. The court will then issue a judgement (in default if you do not appear) either for the creditor or the debtor. After that, the creditor can then (if they win) seek things such as garnishment to repay the debt.

Now in the UK, they have accepted the "Electronic Communications Act of 2000" which means that a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES) is as legally binding as a "wet ink" signature. Non-QES signatures may also be binding, but that requires additional evidence.

Let's take an example of a small personal loan. Let's say you apply electronically for a loan of X amount. The loan is approved and the money is transferred into your bank account electronically. You spend the money but make no attempt to repay the loan.

First the bank will make attempts to collect the debt via normal means, then they may sell the debt to a debt collector. The debt collector will apply for a "warrant in debt" to take you to court for the amount (possibly with fees). If you do not appear, a default judgement will be applied to you.

If you signed the loan application with a QES compliant system, that signature is all the debt collector will need to show that you accepted the debt and the repayment terms. If you did not sign with a QES system, they can still submit the application but they may have to prove other things, like:

  • Your intent to obtain money for some purpose
  • Your action in keeping/spending the money
  • No action on your part to return or rectify the transfer
  • Any payments you may have made towards the loan (shows that you acknowledge the loan and terms)

So no, as of at least 2000 most countries accept some type of electronic signature to be legally binding.

An entirely different topic would be if the debt is legal without the paperwork. Many debt collection agencies buy debt in bulk that may not be much more than an Excel sheet with the amounts and names/addresses and other personal information. A lot of times the entire debt "paper trail" is not transferred with these debt purchases so a debt collector may have purchased $10 million worth of debt for $50,000 that is nothing more than an Excel sheet. I believe in the US this has held up, but I'm not sure about the UK/rest of the world.

What the YouTube people may be saying is that they don't have anything regarding the debt as far as binding paperwork goes. That may be something completely different.


when you see these videos on YouTube and various other sites of people arguing with debt collectors about warrants, one of the most common things they say is "you need a wet ink signature for the warrant to be legal"

Is that actually true?

No. It is an internet myth, which seems to be spread by people (e.g. 'Freemen on the Land') who believe there are magic legal words or phrases that can help them evade their debts (or taxes, or speeding fines, etc).

There is no legal requirement for a warrant relating to debt to have a wet ink signature (the warrant need not be on paper either). There was a judicial review about signatures on summonses, R v Brentford Justices, ex parte Catlin [1975] QB 455. In that case, Lord Chief Justice Widgery stated that it is perfectly proper for a signature to be rubber stamped. And rule 109 of the Magistrates' Courts Rules 1981 as amended by The Magistrates' Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Rules 2003 says "In this rule where a signature is required on a form or warrant other than an arrest, remand or commitment warrant, an electronic signature incorporated into the document will satisfy this requirement".

The recipient should satisfy themself about the authenticity of the warrant. They can do that by contacting the court office (in person or by phone) to ask if the warrant really was issued there. They aren't going to get out of it by arguing that an ink pen should have been used.

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