Blandy & Blandy Solicitors

We continue to provide a full legal advice service for both new and existing clients >>

Insights // 09 October 2019

Court Ruling Says Email Signatures Can Sign Binding Contracts

Senior solicitor Louisa Baker, in our Commercial Property team, looks at a recent case that serves as a reminder to beware when corresponding by email – you could end up signing up for more than you bargained for!

In Stavros Neocleous and Kalliroy Neocleous v Christine Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch), Manchester County Court held that a signature which had been generated automatically in an email footer could constitute a “signed” contract for the purposes of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989.

The facts

A dispute over a piece of land and a right of way resulted in two landowners agreeing in principle to buy and sell the piece of land in question. There was correspondence between two firms of lawyers and at one stage a reduction in the purchase price was proposed by email. The solicitor at the other firm replied “agreed” and sent that email complete with an automatically generated standard footer which included his name, job title, the name of the firm and the contact details. It was held that this constituted a “signature” and therefore there had been acceptance of the reduction in the price as a valid contract had been formed. The client was therefore bound by that decision. Here the loss (or reduction in the purchase price) was £25,000.

The law

Section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 says that a contract for the sale of land must be in writing, incorporate all the agreed terms and be signed by or on behalf of each party to the contract. Traditionally such contracts have required a “wet” signature but there are now more and more scenarios where it is possible to use technology to do things differently. There was also discussion in the court about the distinction between actually typing a name as opposed to it being generated automatically and the position is not entirely clear cut. However it was held that the solicitor’s use of “many thanks” before the email signature which was generated provided a link to the signature and made it clear that it was all part of the same document.

Is this decision of concern?

Yes! The message here has to be to err on the side of caution. Although this was a decision at county court level it serves as an important reminder in any context to take great care when corresponding and make it clear exactly what your instructions are and the level to which you have authority.

The difficulty is, as ever, that technology is developing faster than the law and so interpretation of the law necessarily has to follow. This can result in some unexpected decisions. Although this case was in the context of correspondence between two lawyers it is important to keep the risks in mind when agreeing any matter and this is unlikely to be the last we hear on the issue. Electronic signatures are a hot topic at the moment and the Law Commission has recently published a consultation paper on the uncertainties and issues surrounding electronic execution of documents. Watch this space!

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Louisa Baker

Louisa Baker

Senior Solicitor, Commercial Property Law

Read Bio

News & Insights

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Divorce Proceedings
Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer

Partner, Family Law

Self-isolating After Returning to the UK from Holiday – Will My Employer Pay Me?
Tim Clark

Tim Clark

Joint Managing Partner, Employment Law

Redundancy FAQs – A Guide for Employees
Andrea Corr

Andrea Corr

Solicitor, Employment Law

Wills Witnessed By Video Link to Be Made Legal
Emily Riesco

Emily Riesco

Solicitor, Wills, Probate, Tax & Trusts

The Post COVID-19 Workplace - Two Thirds of Companies Expect More Homeworking Finds Survey
John Dingle

John Dingle

Partner, Commercial Property Law

Blandy & Blandy Top Ranked in Chambers Guide
David Lamont

David Lamont

Marketing Manager

What Does the Government's 'Plan for Jobs” Mean for Employers and Workers?
Sue Dowling

Sue Dowling

Partner, Employment Law & Venue Licensing

Luke McMath Appears on BBC Radio
Luke McMath

Luke McMath

Partner

What The Stamp Duty 'Holiday' Changes Will Mean For You
Luke McMath

Luke McMath

Partner

View More