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Disclaimers could make emails into contracts

England's 400 year-old cyber signature law

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The High Court in Manchester has ruled that an email cannot be recognised as a legal written offer if it does not contain a signature or name within the body of the mail. The inclusion of a user name in the message header is not enough.

Judge Pelling ruled that the automatic inclusion of an email address is not enough to count as a signature.

The dispute was between JPF, a Portuguese bed maker, and Bedcare (UK) Ltd and its director Nilesh Metha.

According to court documents, JPF applied for a winding up order because Bedcare owed it money. Metha sent an email, or got one of his staff to, offering a personal guarantee to JPF if they would withdraw the winding up order. Mr Metha did not sign the email but the header read "nelmetha@aol.com".

JPF phoned and accepted the offer made - the hearing for the winding up order was adjourned for two weeks. Bedcare subsequently did go out of business. Metha claimed that the email was not enough to qualify as a signature under the requirements of the 1677 Statute of Frauds, and therefore he was not liable for the personal guarantee.

Judge Pelling said: "In my judgment the inclusion of an e-mail address in such circumstances is a clear example of the inclusion of a name which is incidental in the sense identified by Lord Westbury in the absence of evidence of a contrary intention.... I conclude that the e-mail ... did not bear a signature sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Section 4."

Full judgement available from Bailii here.

The end result of this could be that people who include a signature and disclaimer at the bottom of their emails might actually be making themselves more liable than people who just send one line emails. More details from Reckon here.®

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