THE APPLICATION OF THE PLAIN AND UNDERSTANDABLE LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT IN TERMS OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT – CAN WE LEARN FROM PAST PRECEDENT?
Keywords:contracts, plain and understandable language requirements
In many instances consumers enter into contracts when buying goods or services. These contracts are extremely important as they contain the terms under which the contract is concluded. The terms may also be contained on the reverse side of a receipt or, on occasion, in a separate document which is given to them either when they conclude the contract or at a later stage. In addition to written contracts which contain terms and notices placed at business premises warning consumers of various hazards or consequences also bind consumers. However, consumers will seldom read the contractual documents that they sign and notices are also often ignored. A variety of reasons for this can be put forward; amongst others, consumers are commonly more interested in obtaining the goods rather than the consequences of the purchase. They may feel that they trust the business that they are dealing with to deal honestly, or they may simply believe that they will not be able to understand the terms and conditions, so they do not bother to read them. Van den Bergh (Readable Consumer Contracts (1985) 1) proposes that one of the reasons for the latter may be that the terms or notices are written in a manner which is unattractive and unintelligible to consumers. A possible solution to this is to try and ensure that all written material is in a format and style which is easy to read and in a language which is easy for the consumer to understand. This is the objective of plain and understandable language requirements in legislation.
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