Some documents need signatures and the Law Commission says that electronic signatures can be used to execute documents. So is a signature block at the end of an email good enough, even if it is "automatically" added? A solicitor confirmed terms of settlement reached between clients with an email that finished: "Many thanks" followed by a signature block with his name, position in the firm, (Solicitor and Director) "For and on behalf of..." his firm and then his contact details. When the solicitor subsequently claimed that settlement had not been reached, the court had to decide if the email had been "signed", as required by the 1989 Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.

The court referred to the test identified in Mehta v J Pereira Fernandes SA and adopted by the Law Commission in its Report, whether the name was applied with authenticating intent.

The party challenging the signature's validity emphasised the fact that the footer was created "automatically", i.e., added to every email sent by the solicitor, but it was common ground that the rule that a footer of this type should be added to every email involved the conscious action at some stage of a person entering the relevant information and settings in Microsoft Outlook. And the solicitor knew that his name was added to the email. The manual typing of "Many thanks" at the end of the email strongly suggested that he was relying on the automatic footer to sign off his name.

In these circumstances, it was difficult to distinguish between a name added under a general rule that the sender's name and details should be added at the end, from an alternative practice that each time an email is sent the sender manually adds those details. And the recipient of the email has no way of knowing (as far as the court was aware) whether the details at the end of an email are added under an automatic rule or by the sender manually. Looked at objectively, the presence of the name indicated a clear intention to associate oneself with the email to authenticate it or to sign it. The court consequently decided that the solicitor had signed the email on behalf of his client.

Neocleous & Anor v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch)