Disclaimers could make emails into contracts

England's 400 year-old cyber signature law

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 "".

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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