Watch your email signature

The definition of what counts as a “signature” isn’t of enormous importance to shipping lawyers most of the time: they don’t tend to deal in real estate or declare themselves trustees of land. But in one case it does matter: guarantees, whether of charter obligations, settlements or any other obligation need to be signed under s.4 of the Statute of Frauds 1677. Imagine you send an email on a client’s instructions guaranteeing a debt. If you type in your name like so — “Best wishes, Barry” — no problem. But what if you just type “Agreed” under the terms of the guarantee, and your email program appends at the foot of the email: “From Barry X at ABC Solicitors LLP. This email is confidential etc etc …”? Signed or not? The Chancery Division last week said Yes in Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch). A settlement of a real estate dispute was held enforceable in these circumstances under the LP(MP) Act 1989; it seems pretty clear that s.4 cases will be decided the same way. Moral: good news for those wishing to uphold guarantees. And if you are thinking of raising the pettifogger’s defence under s.4, look carefully at your email settings. You have been warned.

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