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ISBACKDATINGLEGAL?

Iamsurethatfromtimetotimewehaveallcomeacrossthevexedquestionofbackdating
documents.
Aclientor,inthecaseofaninhouselawyercolleague(whoforthepurposesofthisarticlewillalsobeconsideredaclient),
asksyoutoprepareadocumentandthenyourheartsinksashesaysohandithastobedatedandgivesadatewhich
hasalreadypassed.Isitlegaltocomplywiththerequestormustitalwaysberefusedoutright?Alternatively,isthereaway
oflegallytryingtoachievetherequiredobjective?
Ifthedocumentisputtinginplacesomethingwhichshouldhavebeendonebuthasntbeen,usuallyfortaxorsimilar
reasons,thenthepositionisstraightforward.Forexample,ifasellerhadsoldhishouseinDecemberthenthesellercould
havetakenadvantageofcertaintaxbenefits.However,heonlyrealizesthisinJanuaryandsowishestobackdatethe
documenttoDecember.Theeventdidnothappenduringthetimeperiodrequiredforthebenefitsoanattemptisbeingmade
topretendthatitdid.Thisisafraudonthetaxauthorities,acriminaloffenceandislikelytogetthelawyerwhopreparedthe
documentdisciplinedbyhisregulatorandpossiblyalsochargedasacoconspirator.Forobviousreasons,anyrequestto
backdateadocumentforthesereasonsshouldbeflatlyturneddown.
However,anexplanationoftengivenbythepersonwantingtobackdatethedocumentisthatthedocumentismerelymeant
toreflectanoralagreementthathasalreadybeenmadeandthatthisisjustawayofdocumentingit.Intheory,thiswould
appearonthefaceofittobeareasonablerequest,asitisjustaprivatearrangementbetweentwoparties.Theargumentis
obviouslynotvalidifthetransactionisonewhichisrequiredbylawtobeinwritingsuchasatransferofland.Thisisnotan
agreementthatcouldhavebeenmadeorally.However,evenifitisanagreementthatcouldhavebeenmadeorallythe
lawyerpreparingtheagreementhasnowayofknowingwhetherthatisactuallythecaseandthattheagreementtobefully
documentedbyhimistheonethatwasreachedattheearlierdate.Healsohasnowayofknowingwhetherthebackdating
willbescrutinizedbyaregulatoryauthorityorevenaCourt.Forexample,willthedocumentbeprovidedinsupportofthe
partystaxpositiongivingtheimpressionthatasignedlegalcontactwasinplacebeforeitwas?
Thedifficultquestionforalawyertoansweristowhatextentdoeshehavetoenquireintotheveracityofhisclients
statementthatthedocumentisjustrecordinganearlieragreement?Doesheneedtochecktoseewhetherthatwas
actuallythecaseorcanhetakeanostrichlikepositionandputhisheadinthesandandnotaskanyquestions?Istherean
obligationonthelawyertomakeatleastreasonableendeavourstoconfirmthatheisbeingtoldthetruth?Unfortunately,
thereisnosimpleorstraightforwardanswertothisanditcomesdowntohowcomfortablethelawyerwillbedefendinghis
positioninagreeingtobackdatethedocumentifhisjudgmentwaswrongandtheauthoritieschallengethedocument,
possiblyinacriminalcomplaintagainsttheclient.Whatconfirmationoftheearlieragreementdidtheclientorthecompany
forwhichtheclient(andlawyer)worksprovide?Istheclientalongstandingonewhohasalwaysactedproperlyinthepast?
Howwelldoesthelawyerknowtheclient?Thesearequestionshewillprobablybeaskedbythejudgeorregulatorifthings
gowrongandtowhichhewillneedconvincinganswers.
Therearesomewaysinwhichthelawyercangivehimselfsomeprotectioninagreeingtosucharequestbuttheyarenot
foolproof.Forexample,ifonewishestobackdateadocumentforthepurposesofrecordinganearlieroralagreement,it
shouldneverthelessstillbedraftedinsuchawaysoastoavoidgivingtheincorrectimpressionthatitwasactuallysigned
onthedatestated.Thebestwaytoachievethisistostateopenlyinthedocumentthatitisrecordinganearlieroral
agreementmadeon,andsoiswitheffectfrom,aparticulardateandthendateittheactualdateitwassigned.Theposition
isthencleartoallwhosubsequentlylookatthedocument.Anotherwayistostateatthebeginningofthedocumentthatit
ismadeasoftherequireddate.However,theactualdateofsignatureshouldneverthelessbesetoutintheattestation
clauseattheendtoavoidanyclaimsthatthedocumentwasintentionallymisleading.Needlesstosay,eventhesemethods
ofbackdatingadocumentshouldnotbeusedwhentherewasnoearlieragreementandthedocumentisjustanattemptto
giveafalseimpressionthatsomethingoccurredonanearlierdatethanitdid.Becauseevenputtingasofacertaindatewill
notprotectthelawyerfromimplicationinacriminalactifthepurposeofthebackdatingisactuallytodefraudormisleadthe
taxman,anyregulatoryauthorityorevenanyotherindividualandthelawyerkneworshouldhaveknownthatthiswasthe
case.

Soascanbeseen,theissueofbackdatingcanbeacontentiousone.Itisnotstraightforwardandcangiveproblemstoany
lawyerthatagreestobackdateadocument,evenifhemakesitclearonthedocumentthatitisbackdated,ashemustbe
carefultomakesurethatheknowswhythedocumentisbeingbackdatedandthatitisbeingdoneforalegitimatereason.
Therefore,ifindoubtitisbesttosaynoortotakeexternallegaladviceifappropriate.
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