Features

Re: Email clarity

AdobeStock_581027066

Derek Inkpin from local solicitors Axiom DWFM looks at the use of signatures and explains how typing your name at the end of an email can also be legally binding

Is putting your name to an exchange of emails sufficient to hold you to a legally binding agreement? The traditional way, of course, of contracting with someone where the law prescribes that a particular agreement must be in writing is to sign it with a pen. With all the technology now at our fingertips, is there any other way of committing yourself except with a ‘wet signature’?

At the end of 2022, this was an issue which arose in a Court of Appeal case (Hudson vs Hathaway), where crucial to the court’s thinking was whether the law had been complied with on the issue of putting into writing the transfer of an interest in a property. Does an email amount to ‘in writing’ as the law prescribes, and has it been signed by the appropriate person where no handwritten signature appears in the email?

One of the judges said in this case that deliberately ascribing one’s signature to an email amounts to a signature, and the law recognises that technological developments have extended what an ordinary person understands by a signature.

What was important in this case was an exchange of emails between the joint non-married owners of a property who reached an agreement where the man (Lee) kept his pension and shares and the woman (Jayne) kept the house and its contents and other assets. What subsequently happened is that Lee later claimed half of the proceeds of the sale of the house contrary to his earlier agreement. In the absence of a signed agreement by Lee and Jayne, were their emails sufficient to comply with the law and to change the arrangements when they purchased the property?

Jayne relied on the argument that there was a common intention between her and Lee for her to have the house and that she had acted to her detriment by relying on that agreement. The point to be made is that every case is unique on its own facts, but in this case, an email to which you put your name is sufficient to legally bind you, and where you rely to your disadvantage by reaching an agreement which changes the earlier legal ownership of a property is legally binding.

What Jayne had asked in their email exchanges was: “I get the equity in the house [and other assets]. Is that right? If so, I accept this.“ To which Lee replied: “Yes, that’s right.“ These words, with Lee’s printed name at the end, amounted to a signature and that was therefore legally binding.

I suppose the moral of the story is to be careful what you write if you want to avoid legal implications.


Axiom DWFM is located at 9–13 Cambridge Park, Wanstead, E11 2PU. For more information, call 020 8215 1000