• In today’s world, an increasing amount of our communication and negotiation is done via email – but can an email constitute a valid contract and is it enforceable?  
  • The recent SCA case of Spring Forest Trading 599 CC v Wilbury (725/13) [2014] ZASCA 178 says yes. The court found that email correspondence between parties could amount to a contract and the names of the parties at the foot of their emails could constitute ‘signatures’ for that purpose.   
  • The court came to this decision by applying s 13(3) of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, which provides that where parties to an electronic transaction require an electronic signature for that transaction but do not specify the type of electronic signature required, the prerequisite of a signature is met if the following requirements are satisfied:
    • a method is used to identify the person signing and to indicate his/her approval of the information communicated in the electronic document;
    • the method was as reliable as appropriate for the purposes for which the information was communicated, having regard to the relevant circumstances at the time.   
  • Therefore, because the parties themselves had introduced the requirement of a signature for their agreement, because the email correspondence, read together, indicated a settlement on which they both agreed and because their names at the bottom of their respective emails were sufficiently reliable to identify each of them as the parties, the email was held to be a valid contract and was enforced by the court.  
  • So, the next time you draft an email be sure to take careful note of what you are agreeing to – it could hold up in court!