Neocleouos v Rees – signing your land away by email

One of the protections in place for certain transactions is a requirement for “signed writing”. This case concerned a contract for sale of land.

This recent case considers an area where the law really hasn’t caught up yet – email signature blocks. In short, is an automated signature added by your email software enough to amount to a signature for legal purposes?

Neocleous says yes!

The judge helpfully considers prior cases on how far an individual has to go to “sign” an email. It was previously viewed that a person manually adding their name, or having their typist do so, was sufficient to “sign” – being intended to authenticate the document.

There are, unsurprisingly, also statutory issues to consider including the Electronic Communications Act 2000 (which gives effect to the E-Signatures Directive) and the Law Commission’s report on this issue. That report concludes that adding a typed signature is sufficient, as is clicking an “I accept” button on a website.

The judge took the view that “signature” had evolved and included the concept of an automatically added signature in Outlook. Especially as from the recipient’s perspective it is not possible to ascertain whether such a signature is manually added or automatic,

This was held intentional as it was known to the sender that this was done, as emphasised by the fact that his email ended with the signoff “Many thanks” and followed by the automatic signature.

This may be a surprise to some but commercially it seems to be an increasing occurrence and signed contracts are created regularly in this fashion.

The full case is at Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch)