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E-mail Signatures – Warning!

In a highly significant case in the High Court (Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch) (20 September 2019), HHJ Pearce has held that an automatically inserted email footer constituted a signature for the purposes of a property sale contract.  By law, a contract for the sale of property must be made in writing, set out all of the terms of the agreement and be signed by the parties.

In this case the terms of a contract for sale had been agreed in an email thread between the parties’ solicitors.  The question which arose was whether the requirement for the contract to be signed had been satisfied.  The Court decided that an automatically generated email footer containing the name, occupation, role and contact details of the sender constituted a valid signature pursuant to section 2 of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989.  The Court took the view that whilst the footer was added automatically, the sender had deliberately created a rule for the purpose of authenticating each e-mail being sent.  In this sense the footer had the effect of signing the contract.


Adcocks Comment – Hedley Adcock

“This is an illustration of the law keeping pace with the trend for electronic communications and the growing recognition of their use and importance in formal transactions.  Legal practitioners and clients alike must be alert to the possibility that an email exchange may inadvertently create a binding legal agreement.  Any correspondence relating to the sale of property or land should always be marked with the words “subject to contract” to avoid the possibility of a contract coming into effect before it is intended.

Additionally, parties should give careful consideration to their policy on automatic insertion of e-mail footers.  To avoid the pitfall of unwittingly entering into a contract by e-mail, manual insertion of email footers may be advisable.”

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