Ugandan Court Rules That Contracts Entered Into Under WhatsApp Are Valid And Legally Enforceable

In yet another landmark case a Ugandan court has held that contracts executed via popular social media WhatsApp are legally enforceable under the known and long settled legal principles of offer and acceptance .

Justice Patricia Kahigi Asiimwe of the Commercial Division of the High Court ruled that WhatsApp generated text is recognizable evidence under the Uganda Electronic Transactions Act, 2011.

“WhatsApp messages are data messages and, therefore, form a contract under section 3 of the Contracts Act,” Asiimwe stated in her elaborate judgement and noted that under section 2 of the Electronic Transactions Act, a mobile phone is a computer.

Under the law, a computer is defined as an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other data processing device or a group of such interconnected or related devices, performing logical, arithmetic or storage functions and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such a device or a group of such interconnected or related devices.

This after a litigant ,Dr Rodney Mugarura sued Paramount Hospital and its director Simon Begumisa over breach of contract, which was conducted via WhatsApp. Dr. mugarura had offered professional services at the said facility but was not paid .

Justice Asiimwe cited the Indian case of Syed Asifuddin and others versus the State of Andhra Pradesh, where the court compared a traditional computer and a cell phone and held that a cell phone is a computer.

“The 2nd defendant (Begumisa) requested the plaintiff (Mugarura) for his account details and for the amount of money they owed him. The two parties entered into negotiations, which clearly indicates that services were provided and that the defendants owed the plaintiff money.

“The plaintiff also submitted invoices addressed to the two patients wherein both patients were billed for spinal surgery. I, therefore, find that there was a breach of contract,” Asiimwe ruled.

Under section 10 (1) of the Contracts Act, 2010, a contract is an agreement made with the free consent of parties with the capacity to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object, with the intention to be legally bound.

Section 10 (2) of the same Act says a contract may be oral or written, or partly oral and partly written, or may be implied from the conduct of the parties.

But section 10 (5) of the Act provides that a contract subject matter, which exceeds 25 currency points (sh500,000) shall be in writing. The judge , however , relied on section 10 (3) of the same law, which states that a contract is in writing where it is in the form of a data message.

She awarded Dr. Mugarura Shs.41m at an interest rate of 20% per annum from the time the case was filed until full payment The judge noted that the defendants didn’t file written statements of defence and yet there is no evidence of payment of the money owed to Mugarura ,and as such there was breach of contract.

Dr Rodney Mugarura stated in his pleadings that in September 2019, he was approached by Begumisa as a director at Paramount Hospital through a WhatsApp message. Begumisa allegedly informed Mugarura that the hospital runs many departments, including orthopaedic surgery and that it works with many surgeons who are given operating rights and the rights to charge their professional fees.

Mugarura said Begumisa further informed him that they desired to work with him under a similar arrangement. He then treated several patients, including Samuel Ginanya and Fredrick Businge. Under the arrangement, Mugarura said it was agreed that he invoices for his professional fees, surgical implants used in the surgeries and other services he would provide in the process of attending to the patients.

Mugarura said he made several demands for payment in vain which prompted him to seek legal redress.

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