The High Court has ordered that a compromise contract be completed after ruling that a solicitor’s automatic email sign-off was proof of signature.
In Neocleous & Anor v Rees, His Honour Judge Pearce said the presence of the sender’s name on the email – even if it was automatically generated – showed he had a 'clear intention' to associate himself with and authenticate it.
The judge added that the words ‘Many thanks’ before the footer showed an intention to connect the name with the contents of the email.
The claimant, represented by Daniel Wise of north west firm Slater Heelis, had offered to settle a land dispute for £175,000, which was initially accepted over a phone call with the defendant’s solicitor David Tear, from Yorkshire firm AWB Charlesworth Solicitors.
Tear then emailed Wise confirming terms of settlement between their respective clients and setting out the details of the agreement, signing off the message 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 settlement had yet to be finalised.
The claimants contended before the court that the solicitors’ exchange of emails amounted to a binding contract of compromise under the terms of the Law of Property (Miscellanoues Provisions) Act 1989. The defendant contended there was no enforceable contract under the Act because the emails were not signed by the parties. Tear submitted he did not add his name at the bottom of his email and instead it was automatically added as an email footer. This was the same sign-off at the end of every email created by the sender.
In response the claimants submitted that the typed name of the sender, whether manually entered or generated by software, rendered the document ‘signed’, so long as the inclusion of the name was to give the email authenticity.
Ruling for the claimants, the judge said the defendant’s position appeared to involve using a ‘serendipitous technical defect in formality to renege upon a deal’.
He said an ordinary person would consider that when a sender stores their name in the ‘signature’ function on emails they would do so intending to sign every email.
The judge ruled that the claimants were entitled to the order for performance of the contract of compromise.