A ruling by Manchester County Court has stated that a work email signature block can be used to form a binding and legal contract, which has cost a land seller £25,000.
The case arose from a property dispute in 2016 relating to a boat jetty and a plot of land at Lake Windermere. The solicitor from one side sent a reply to the other side’s lawyers that agreed to a suggestion made during the contract negotiations.
The dispute centred around the fact that the Stavros and Kalliroy Neocleous’ jetty could only be accessed by crossing Christine Rees’ land.
The Neocleous’ attempted to register a legal right of way to cross Rees’ land, but she objected before it was agreed that she would sell part of her land to the Neocleouses.
The solicitors acting for Rees emailed a reply to the lawyers acting for the Neocleouses in response to a suggested change to the contract. The email was sent with a standard footer, which included the lawyer’s name, name of the firm, their job title and contact details.
The emails stated an agreed price of £175,000 for the plot of land, which was agreed by the lawyers for the Neocleouses. Unfortunately, the price was below the £200,000 that Rees was holding out for, while her solicitor subsequently emailed all parties to state that the contract had not been finalised by the emails.
The court decision centred on whether the inclusion of a name in the email footer counts as a signature, legally.
Judge Pearce, sitting at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, said: “The purported signature of the solicitor on behalf of the defendant was by ‘automatic’ generation of his name, occupation, role and contact details at the foot of an email.
“Looked at objectively, the presence of the name indicates a clear intention to associate oneself with the email – to authenticate it or to sign it.
“There is a good reason to avoid an interpretation of what is sufficient to render a document ‘signed’ for the purpose of Section 2 where that interpretation may have the effect of introducing uncertainty and/or the need for extrinsic evidence to prove the necessary intent.
“The use of the words ‘Many Thanks’ before the footer shows an intention to connect the name with the contents of the email.”