Last week, Gordon Ramsay lost a High Court battle with his father-in-law, Mr Hutcheson, over the lease of a pub in London entered into in 2008. The lease was guaranteed by Gordon Ramsay personally and appeared to have been signed by him in the presence of a witness, Mr Kevin Fung.
It transpired that Ramsay’s signature was placed on the document by means of a signature writing machine which was operated by or under the direction of Mr Hutcheson. A signature writing machine, in this case a “Ghostwriter”, is a machine which reproduces signatures for celebrities and the like who don’t have time to waste repetitively signing books, photos, or in this case a legally binding lease.
It was accepted by the parties that Ramsay himself could sign a document by operating the signature writing machine. It was also accepted that Mr Ramsay could expressly authorise another person to operate the signature writing machine to place Ramsay’s signature on the deed, in which case the deed would be effectively signed. The principal dispute was whether Mr Hutcheson had authority to act on Ramsay’s behalf in relation to the giving of the guarantee and this was decided on the facts of the case.
The decision suggests that there is nothing wrong with using a signature writing machine to sign legal documents, including deeds. Anyone who has to sign hundreds of documents a week may well be tempted to invest in a signature writing machine.
However, this case does raise a concern for the other party entering into a contract. In Ramsay’s case the landlord was presented with an inked signature of Gordon Ramsay, which he understandably thought he could rely upon. Although in Ramsay’s case, Mr Hutcheson did have authority to enter into the lease on behalf of Ramsay using the Ghostwriter, this may not always be the case. On the face of the document, it is impossible to tell the difference between the ghost-written signature and a handwritten specimen signature (although in Ramsay’s case a professional handwriting expert was able to). This creates an extra element of uncertainty for a party entering into a contract unless the contract is signed in the presence of all parties or a solicitor confirms that it has been correctly signed.
Also, there is perhaps now greater uncertainty for all ardent Ramsay fans. Is their ‘signed’ Gordon Ramsay cook book really just a ghost-written imposter?