Automatic signatures found at the end of emails, stating name, place of work, job title and contact details, is now being included in what counts as a signature to form a binding contract – according to a ruling from Manchester County Court.
In the case, a property owner wanted to sell a piece of land for £200,000 but, in an exchange of emails, her lawyer had asked the prospective buyer's lawyer for £175,000.
The buyer’s lawyer accepted this and responded to the email, notifying them of the acceptance. It was argued, however, that the sale was not binding because there was no paperwork signed.
The judge hearing the case decided that the automatic signature at the end of the email sent served as his signature, and with the signature of the buyer's lawyer being sent back, this constituted a binding contract as the law states in section 2(1) of the Law of Property Act 1989.
His Honour Judge Pearce remarked that the fact the automatic email signature had not been added to other emails sent between the parties, as well as the use of the sign off ‘many thanks’ showed an intention to connect the name with the contents of the email.
This case shows that the law is moving on to keep up with the increase in emailing throughout case matters, instead of face-to-face meetings. Clients should be careful about what they put in their emails to the other side and should use this case as a reminder to always check and double-check final details.
However, a way to prevent the ruling of this case from effecting others could be to include something in emails like, ‘this email does not constitute a legally-binding contract’, or even ‘subject to contract’ to ensure there are no contracts accidentally formed.