THE INFLUENCE OF PLAIN LANGUAGE AND STRUCTURE ON THE READABILITY OF CONTRACTS
Keywords:Contracts, freedom of contract, plain language, readability
Contracts form an integral part of our existence, both in our work and personal environments. They are an unavoidable consequence of our participation in the commercial world. As such they are important since they will determine the distribution of wealth and power in society. South African law has always stuck religiously to the principles of freedom of contract and pacta sunt servanda. That is to say, everyone should have the utmost freedom to enter into contracts with whomever they please and once that agreement has been struck it must be adhered to. Through the application of these principles the law of contract obtained a high degree of certainty which is important for the parties to a contract because they know what their rights and obligations are. Furthermore they are safe in the
knowledge that the contract is enforceable. While this may be an ideal situation we do not live in an ideal world. A large percentage of our society has had little contractual experience and even those that have are still regularly involved in contacts over which they have no control. Whilst consumers supposedly have freedom to contract, they very often have no leverage to negotiate the terms of the contract since a business will often make use of a standard form contract. As a consequence of this lack of bargaining power, consumers entering into contracts may not bother to read the terms since they are bound by them no matter what. Another reason is that they may be drafted and set out in such a way as to dissuade consumers from reading them.
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