An agents authority extends to signing documents with an automated signature machine

Written on 10 Feb 2015

The High Court recently held that a celebrity chef was bound by a lease guarantee (technically a contract of indemnity), which had been “signed” by the CEO of the business at the time (also his father in law) using an automated signature writing machine to reproduce the chef’s signature. The judge found that the parties’ long relationship was one of trust (strengthened by family ties) and the CEO had acted as agent without exceeding his authority. The High Court did not rule on the validity of a signature affixed to legal documents by way of a signature machine, but the judge did note that the “parties accepted that guarantors do not have to sign guarantees with a pen held in their hand and if the [chef] had operated the machine himself or expressly authorised its use for this purpose, the guarantee would have been effectively signed by him”. On a practical level, should you engage agents on your behalf, make sure you clearly set out the scope of their authority. The case also raises our awareness of automated signature machines. In this day of technological advances, it is potentially only a matter of time before the courts will have to consider what constitutes a signature.