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Marie Mandíková | April 9, 2024

Digital revolution of powers of attorney: the end of the paper form as we know it?

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On 1 March 2024, the Chamber of Deputies approved in the first reading a draft amendment to Act No. 111/2009 Coll., on basic registers. If the amendment in its current wording is adopted by the Senate as well, we will see the launch of the so-called Representation Register, which will serve as a centralized registration system for the creation and storage of electronic powers of attorney for the purpose of dealing with state authorities. This database will be accessible to public authorities, who will be able to easily verify the existence and validity of the relevant power of attorney in electronic form. It will no longer be necessary to submit a paper version of the written confirmation of the agreed contractual representation to the authorities.

A tool to simplify the entire process of processing the power of attorney will probably be pre-prepared forms, in which the user only needs to fill in his/her identification data, information about the agent (or principal) and the specification of the matter, for which the power of attorney will be valid. Moreover, this document will not even have to be officially certified, as it will be confirmed by Citizen Identity (Identita občana). The information will be entered into the Representation Register either through the so-called self-service entry via the Public Administration Portal or using the so-called assisted entry, which will be provided via the CzechPoint service.

Some administrative authorities have already expressed their interest in using the Representation Register as soon as possible. Director of the Digital and Information Agency Martin Mesršmíd said that “the first authority to connect to the Representation Register will be the Ministry of Transport, which is very interested in it”.

However, the seemingly revolutionary innovation, radically simplifying the proof of contractual representation, also contains a number of latent pitfalls that must be taken into account. The most obvious one is the possible failure of the system due to a technical error or a cyber-attack, which can cause – at best only temporary – failure of the Registry, but also loss or mistaking of data.

Another risk lies, paradoxically, in the very core and purpose of this digitisation amendment – the ease with which a user (often completely unfamiliar with the law) can formally grant or, on the contrary, accept authorisation to represent, even for an indefinite number of proceedings with a specific subject matter and without time limit. Even today, of course, it is possible to encounter misuse of the power of attorney – most often it is a general power of attorney, by which the principal authorises another person (usually a relative) to perform all legal acts and in good faith relies on his relative to help him take care of his affairs. However, he subsequently discovers to his surprise that his deposit books have been drained, his car has been transferred to a new owner and his house is already subject to registration procedure at the Land Registry. However, with the simplification of the system (and the abolition of the obligation to verify the power of attorney for certain acts), it is reasonable to assume that fraudsters will have a slightly easier job. After all, it is easier to imagine a gullible pensioner being persuaded by a fraudster to make a few clicks on a smartphone than to sign a deed.

On the other hand, it should be added for the sake of completeness that the confirmation of the electronic power of attorney in the Representation Register will be performed by means of authentication of the citizen’s identity, which in itself represents one of the highest levels of security that currently exists in communication with public authorities. Moreover, it can be concluded and most of us will presumably agree that protection from the potential pitfalls that digitalization of public administration brings cannot constitute an obstacle to further progress in the implementation of modernization elements.

Last but not least, it should be mentioned that unlike the original government project, which envisaged the possibility for users to upload their own documents to the Register in addition to the prepared templates, this possibility is not available in the amendment approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Users will thus always have to choose one of the templates from the system’s database and match their situation to this template. The question arises, of course, as to how appropriate this system will be and whether in practice the authorities will be lenient in cases, where the model definition of a given authorisation does not fully correspond to their specific requirements based on current practice.

However, if all fears and potential catastrophic scenarios can be dispelled by the successful implementation of the Representation Register in practice, it will undoubtedly be a huge leap forward for the digitisation of public administration, which will ultimately contribute to making everyday life easier for the vast majority of us.