Blockchain technology allows the creation of distributed ledgers. These distribute control among the players rather than requiring a centralised database, and so can reduce costs and speed up transactions. However, when it is used for assets which exist outside the blockchain itself, an unmodified adoption of the technology would bypass legal and regulatory requirements which, for these kinds of assets, cannot be bypassed without fundamental change to the law.
Building those requirements into any blockchain-based system introduces features which are not necessary for performing its core functions, and we call these ‘legal impurities’. The most important legal impurities required are those relating to identification of the parties, and introducing the ability of a trusted third party to make modifications to the ledger. Not only does introducing these legal impurities make fundamental changes to the concept behind blockchain, but it is also essential that they are implemented in ways which do not threaten the integrity of the blockchain as evidence.'Is a ‘smart contract’ really a smart idea? Insights from a legal perspective' by Mark Giancaspro in (2017) 33(6) Computer Law and Security Review 825-835 comments
Swift developments in the emerging field of blockchain technology have facilitated the birth of ‘smart contracts’: computerised transaction protocols which autonomously execute the terms of a contract. Smart contracts are disintermediated and generally transparent in nature, offering the promise of increased commercial efficiency, lower transaction and legal costs, and anonymous transacting. The business world is actively investigating the use of blockchain technology for various commercial purposes. Whilst questions surround the security and reliability of this technology, and the negative impact it may have upon traditional intermediaries, there are equally significant concerns that smart contracts will encounter considerable difficulty adapting to current legal frameworks regulating contracts across jurisdictions. This article considers the potential issues with legal and practical enforceability that arise from the use of smart contracts within both civil and common law jurisdictions.