The High Court in Kampala, Uganda made a novel ruling that affirmed the legal validity of contracts executed through WhatsApp. Judge Patricia Kahigi Asiimwe of the Commercial Division ruled that under the Electronic Transactions Act, the definition of a data message is something that has to be stored by a computer. And then went ahead and declared that WhatsApp messages are considered legally binding agreements under section 3 of the Contracts Act, as they qualify as data messages created, transmitted, received, or stored through computer systems.

This precedent-setting decision emerged from a case filed by Dr. Rodney Mugarura against Paramount Hospital Kampala Limited and its Director, Dr. Simon Begumisa. Dr Mugarura accused the hospital of not paying his professional fees after being hired through WhatsApp messages for complex surgeries.

The court examined the WhatsApp messages and concluded that they constituted a valid contract, as an offer was made, and accepted, and services were provided. Judge Asiimwe is reported to have emphasized that a mobile phone qualifies as a computer, aligning with the Information Technology Act.

In light of this ruling, the Hospital has been ordered to pay Dr Mugarura 41.5 million shillings with a 20 per cent interest from the year the case was filed in 2021 until the full payment is made.

The implications of this ruling for the digital marketing sector, particularly regarding contracts made through social media chat rooms, are profoundly significant:

First, it Increased the Validity and Use of Digital Contracts. This ruling has significantly boosted the credibility and legal enforceability of contracts formed through WhatsApp, likely leading to its wider adoption in the digital marketing sector. Businesses and freelancers can feel more confident now entering into agreements over WhatsApp, fostering easier and more convenient collaboration.

Then it has led to Broader Acceptance of Electronic Evidence. The court’s recognition of WhatsApp messages as “data messages” under the Information Technology Act sets a precedent for accepting other forms of electronic communication as valid evidence in contractual disputes. This now opens the door for using emails, texts, and other digital records in legal proceedings, potentially simplifying evidence gathering.

While the ruling validates WhatsApp contracts, it doesn’t negate the importance of clear communication and documentation. Businesses should still strive for clarity in defining services, fees, timelines, and other crucial terms within their WhatsApp agreements. The Need for Clearer Terms and Documentation like written records, even within WhatsApp chats, strengthens the contract’s validity and reduces potential misunderstandings.

The Potential for Misuse and Disputes is reduced as the increased reliance on digital contracts might lead to an initial rise in misunderstandings and disputes due to misinterpretations or lack of clarity. This highlights the need for businesses to educate their staff and clients on best practices for forming clear and well-documented WhatsApp agreements.

This ruling has evidence of significantly impacting the digital marketing sector which heavily relies on social media platforms like Facebook, X(Twitter), Instagram and others for client communication and contracts. Digital marketing agencies, influencers, and freelance creators utilizing these platforms might see a shift towards leveraging contracts formed directly within those platforms, similar to WhatsApp.

Overall, the High Court ruling represents a significant step forward for the digital marketing sector in Uganda by promoting the legal validity of WhatsApp contracts. However, businesses must approach this cautiously, ensuring clarity, proper documentation, and responsible use to avoid potential pitfalls.

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Patricia Kahill

Patricia Kahill is a multipotentialite Christian entrepreneur, Content Marketing Coach and founder of the Content Marketing agency, Kahill Insights that helps business owners create engaging and interactive content items for digital platforms with a focus on returning a desired outcome. Patricia was the producer of SlamDunk Basketball Talk a show on House of Talent online TV, a former fellow at Harvest Institute for leadership and now an assessor there, and an alumnus of the YELP class of 2017. A member of the BNI Integrity chapter and African Women Entrepreneur Cooperative. She is driven by passion and curiosity, been taking every opportunity that has been given to her with an ambition of stamping her footprint on the world.

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