A work email signature block can be used to form a binding and legal contract, a Manchester court has ruled.
The email in question was part of a thread between lawyers acting for clients who were in dispute over the sale of land in Ghyll Head on the eastern side of Lake Windermere. Kalliroy and Stavros Neocleous owned a jetty that could only be accessed by crossing their neighbour Christine Rees’ land.
The Neocleouses tried to register a legal right of way to cross Rees’ land but she objected. After some discussion, they agreed in principle that Rees would sell part of her land to the Neocleouses.
Daniel Wise of north west firm Slater Heels, who acted on behalf of the Neocleouses, offered to settle the dispute for £175,000 ( £25,000 lower than the original asking price), which was initially accepted over a phone call by David Tear, the solicitor for Rees.
Tear then confirmed the terms of the settlement with Wise via email, which he signed off with ‘Many thanks’ and his name, position, firm’s name and contact details. Wise responded to confirm his agreement with the contents of Tear’s email. The defendant later applied to have the case re-listed and stated that terms of the settlement had yet to be finalised.
Tear said the terms had not been finalised because no paperwork had been officially signed by both parties. He argued that this fell under Section 2 (1) of the Law of Property Act of 1989, which states: “The document incorporating the terms or, where contracts are exchanged, one of the documents incorporating them (but not necessarily the same one) must be signed by or on behalf of each party to the contract.”
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However, the judge ruled that Tear’s automated email signature at the bottom of the email, although not added by him deliberately, still served as a signature. “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,” wrote Judge Pearce, at Manchester Civil Justice Centre.
He also pointed out not all of the email correspondence from Tear had included the auto-signature and said his use of the words “many thanks” at the end of the email text showed “an intention to connect the name with the contents of the email”.
Pearce said: “I am satisfied that Mr Tear signed the relevant email on behalf of the defendant.”