Avoiding an Accidental Sale of Land

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18 October, 2019

Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (ch)

What happened in this case?

The parties were in dispute about the use of a right of way. Rees' solicitors emailed Neocleous's solicitors, offering to transfer land in settlement of the dispute. The name of the solicitor was automatically appended to the bottom of the email. Acceptance of the offer was emailed back by the solicitor acting for Neocleous. Again, the name of the solicitor was appended to the email.

The court had to consider whether these emails, taken together, could create a property contract that complied with Section 2 of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989. Section 2 states that a contract for sale of land is only valid if in writing, signed by the parties. Did the name of the solicitor on the email signature suffice?

What was decided?

The court held that a 'wet ink' signature is not needed. As the Law Commission had suggested, what is required is a name and an 'authenticating intent'. The fact that a signatory's name was added automatically to the email did not prevent there being an authenticating intent.

What have we learnt from this case?

There are times when it is more convenient for the parties to use electronic signatures or exchange of emails. If you do not intend to form a contract for the sale of land (because you wish there to be a spate contract containing more terms), you should head the email "subject to contract".

For more information contact Laura Hallett Lea in our Business Dispute Resolution department via email or phone on 0333 207 1141. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Business Dispute Resolution department here

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