Date of adoption: 12 June 1996 (additional article 5 bis adopted in 1998)


The Model Law on Electronic Commerce (MLEC) purports to enable and facilitate commerce conducted using electronic means by providing national legislators with a set of internationally acceptable rules aimed at removing legal obstacles and increasing legal predictability for electronic commerce. In particular, it is intended to overcome obstacles arising from statutory provisions that may not be varied contractually by providing equal treatment to paper-based and electronic information. Such equal treatment is essential for enabling the use of paperless communication, thus fostering efficiency in international trade.

Why is it relevant?

The MLEC was the first legislative text to adopt the fundamental principles of non-discrimination, technological neutrality and functional equivalence that are widely regarded as the founding elements of modern electronic commerce law. The principle of non-discrimination ensures that a document would not be denied legal effect, validity or enforceability solely on the grounds that it is in electronic form. The principle of technological neutrality mandates the adoption of provisions that are neutral with respect to technology used. In light of the rapid technological advances, neutral rules aim at accommodating any future development without further legislative work. The functional equivalence principle lays out criteria under which electronic communications may be considered equivalent to paper-based communications. In particular, it sets out the specific requirements that electronic communications need to meet in order to fulfil the same purposes and functions that certain notions in the traditional paper-based system – for example, “writing,” “original,” “signed,” and “record”- seek to achieve.

Key provisions

Besides formulating the legal notions of non-discrimination, technological neutrality and functional equivalence, the MLEC establishes rules for the formation and validity of contracts concluded by electronic means, for the attribution of data messages, for the acknowledgement of receipt and for determining the time and place of dispatch and receipt of data messages.

It should be noted that certain provisions of the MLEC were amended by the Electronic Communications Convention in light of recent electronic commerce practice. Moreover, part II of the MLEC, dealing with electronic commerce in connection with carriage of goods, has been complemented by other legislative texts, including the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea (the “Rotterdam Rules”) and may be the object of additional work of UNCITRAL in the future.

Additional information

The Model Law is accompanied by a Guide to Enactment, which provides background and explanatory information to assist States in preparing the necessary legislative provisions and may guide other users of the text.

The CLOUT (Case Law on UNCITRAL Texts) system contains cases relating to the application of the Model Law on Electronic Commerce.