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Agency and the use of signature machines

The recent, well publicised High Court case involving Gordon Ramsay, his agent (and father in law Chris Hutcheson) and an automatic signature machine illustrates that an agent may bind his principal to an agreement by use of a signature machine, provided the agent has the appropriate authority to use the machine.

The court held that an agent had sufficient authority to enter into a personal contract of guarantee and indemnity – in this case with respect to the rent on a pub/restaurant – using a signature machine on the principal’s behalf. The parties’ relationship was one of trust which lasted for over two decades, and it was held that the agent had not exceeded his authority in the particular circumstances.

Whilst this case can perhaps be said to have turned on its particular facts – family ties, a twenty year working relationship, previous practice – it is nevertheless a useful and very important reminder for principals that they should create a clear record of the scope of their agents’ authority, to avoid and/or manage similar disputes.

Charles Ranson

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