Manchester County Court has ruled that an email signature block can be used to form a legally binding contract, despite Section 2 (1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 saying: ‘A contract for the sale or other disposition of an interest in land can only be made in writing and only by incorporating all the terms which the parties have expressly agreed in one document or, where contracts are exchanged, in each.’
The dispute involved a boat jetty and a linked plot of land by Lake Windermere. The boat jetty could only be accessed by crossing the linked plot of land. After some negotiations, it was agreed that Ms R who owned the land, would sell part of their land, so that the boat jetty could be accessed easily by Mr and Mrs N.
Correspondence between the solicitors was via email in relation to an agreement. The solicitor for Mr and Mrs N responded to this email and agreed with the proposed changes to the contract. However, the sale price was noted as £175,000 and not £200,000, so Ms R lost out on £25,000.
HHJ Pearce held that "There is good reason to avoid an interpretation of what is sufficient to render a document 'signed' for the purpose of Section 2 where that interpretation may have the effect of introducing uncertainty and/or the need for extrinsic evidence to prove the necessary intent." and the use of the words 'Many Thanks' before the footer shows an intention to connect the name with the contents of the email."
This case highlights the change in how contracts may become legally binding in the future and as long as the core principles of contract law are complied with, contracts may not have to be in writing.
Solicitors must now be careful what they agree to over email and ensure that any correspondence relating to offers and agreements, is discussed with the client.
To be on the safe side, correspondence regarding settlement agreements and offers, should be done formally, in writing.
The inclusion of the email signature block, as opposed to signing a letter off ‘yours faithfully’, the judge held, “indicates a clear intention to associate oneself with the email’.
By James Wright, Will, Trust and Estate Disputes solicitor
A High Court judge has ruled an email sent by a lawyer is legally binding as it includes his automated signature. The email is part of an exchange between lawyers whose clients were in dispute over the sale of some land.