A recent ruling from the Supreme Court of Appeal shows that simply signing your name at the end of a WhatsApp message or e-mail is enough to constitute a binding agreement.
This ruling found that e-mail negotiations and typed e-mail signatures were binding.
Two companies signed agreements with clauses providing that cancellation to a specific contract could only be made in writing and signed by both parties. However, when the contract was to be cancelled, the terms of the cancellation were recorded in an e-mail exchange and the names of the parties appeared at the bottom of each e-mail.
When one of the businesses entered into another agreement with another company, the former partner interdicted the arrangement on the basis of breaching the former contract.
On appealing the interdict, the SCA upheld the appeal, ruling that the email exchange cancelling the contract was binding in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002 (ECTA).
Think before you Message
The ECTA gives communications via data messages (including WhatsApp, BBM, and even social media) the same effect as non-electronic documents.
If a type of electronic signature isn’t agreed upon by both parties when transacting electronically, a person’s name at the end of an email or data message is enough to satisfy the requirements set out by the ECTA – namely:
- It identifies the person.
- It indicates the person’s approval of the information.
- It is reliable and appropriate for the purpose it was communicating, with regard to the circumstances.
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