High Court rules electronic signature is acceptable in contract case

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An automatically generated electronic signature, contained within an email footer, has been ruled by the High Court as having an authorising effect for contractual purposes.

The Court considered that, despite the footer being created ‘automatically’, a positive and conscious action was required by the sender to create the rule and confirm email settings. As a result, the document would be authenticated in accordance with section 2(3) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 which stipulates that the contract be signed by or on behalf of each party.

Furthermore, the Court held that any recipient of an email containing such a footer would not be able to judge how the signature had been added. It ruled, therefore, that the presence of a signature, in whatever guise, provides a clear intention of the sender to be associated with the contents of the email, thereby authenticating and ‘signing’ it.

The facts of this particular case concerned an alleged contract involving the disposal of interest in land. The claimant sought actions, contained in a series of emails sent between the solicitors acting for both parties, to be performed by the defendant. In response, the defendant maintained that the alleged contract could not be enforced as it hadn’t been signed as per the requirements of section 2(3).

The Court duly held that the electronic signature gave authenticity to the email document and found in favour of the claimant.

In September 2018, we reported that the Law Commission had confirmed that electronic signatures can be used to sign formal legal contracts under English law. This ruling by the High Court demonstrates that the law is keeping pace with technology in this regard.