“Many Thanks” for the Ruling: The High Court has ruled that automatic email signatures are legally binding

October 9, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The High Court rules that automatic email signature can be treated as if signed by hand.

What does this mean?

The High Court has recently ruled an automatic email sign off as being legally binding due to the fact that it contained the presence of the sender’s name. In the case of Neocleous & Anor v Rees (for more on that see here), the Defendant’s email finished off with “Many Thanks” and his name, occupation and contact details were inserted underneath automatically as part of his email signature. The Defendant argued this automatic email sign off, used on every email, did not show an intention to settle, but was rather an automatic feature of the email. The Claimant argued that this was a valid signature and that the contract was binding.

His Honour Judge Pearce ruled that the Defendant’s name as part of his email signature was proof of his agreement to the settlement of a land dispute and that the use of the words “Many Thanks” showed an intention to connect the name with the content of the email. Accordingly, the terms of the settlement were binding.

What's the big picture effect?

Many industries have felt the wide-reaching effects of technology and the legal sector is no different as more contracts are moving in the direction of being signed online as opposed to manually.

Since the Law Commission ruled that electronic signatures are valid forms of consent on 4 September 2019 (see our article on that here), there has been confusion over where the line is to be drawn, as evidenced in the Neocleous & Anor v Rees case. The case raises the question of whether an automatic generation of a name on a document renders the document signed and binding. The High Court’s response was that the common understanding of words changes over time and in its modern 21st century usage, the word “signature” is capable of encompassing electronic signatures within emails provided that there is a clear intention to authenticate the email.  

Going forward, individuals need to proceed with caution when corresponding online. One should be aware that emails can be received as a contractual agreement and therefore, should be deliberated over before being sent. Given that emails are often used as a rapid form of communication it is understandable that miscommunications can arise; yet, Judge Pearce’s ruling has made it mandatory that these mistakes be minimised as what is stated in an email can be taken as valid agreement or consent in court. One should ensure that they are comfortable enough with what they write in their emails that they would be okay with it being in a formal letter with their signature.

Report written by Hanna Tesfazghi

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