Landmark Ruling: High Court Affirms Legality of WhatsApp Messages as Binding Contracts

In a significant legal precedent, the High Court in Kampala, presided over by Commercial Division Judge Patricia Kahigi Asiimwe, has affirmed the enforceability of contracts formed via WhatsApp messages. The ruling underscores the court’s recognition that messages exchanged on the platform constitute data messages, falling within the purview of the law.

The case in question involved Dr. Rodney Mugarura’s pursuit of unpaid professional fees amounting to 41.5 million shillings from Paramount Hospital Kampala Limited and its Director, Dr. Simon Begumisa. Dr. Mugarura contended that the contractual agreement for surgical services was initiated through WhatsApp messages.

Judge Asiimwe, in her comprehensive analysis, determined that the exchanged WhatsApp messages constituted a valid contract under the Contracts Act. Emphasizing the Electronic Transactions Act’s definition of “data message,” the court concluded that WhatsApp messages, being generated, sent, received, or stored by computer means, met the criteria of electronic representations of information.

Crucially, the court clarified that a cellphone qualifies as a computer under the Information Technology Act. This nuanced understanding reinforced the electronic nature of the messages, which were stored on a mobile phone.

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The ruling specifically stated that the messages demonstrated the formation of an offer, its acceptance, and subsequent service provision, thereby confirming the existence of a contract. In adherence to Section 10(3) of the Contracts Act, the court determined that the contract, being in the form of a data message, was accessible for subsequent reference and was otherwise in words.

As a consequential outcome, the court ordered Paramount Hospital Kampala Limited to pay Dr. Mugarura the outstanding 41.5 million shillings, along with a 20 percent interest from the filing year until full payment is made.

Nashaba Victor, an IT expert from VINAStech, remarked on the ruling, stating, “This decision underscores the expanding legal recognition of digital communication platforms and reaffirms the status of WhatsApp messages as valid evidence in contract enforcement.”

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What you need to Know

  1. “Under section 3 of the Contracts Act, WhatsApp messages are data messages generated and when sent, received or stored by computer means and include voices used in an automated transaction, stored record, they mean electronic representations of information in any form.”

  2. Under section 10 (3) of the Contracts Act, a contract is in writing where it is namely; in the form of a data message; accessible in a manner usable for subsequent reference; and otherwise in words.

  3. Under Section 2 of the Electronic Transactions Act a ‘data message’ means data generated, sent, received, or stored by computer means and includes; voice, where the voice is used in an automated transaction; a stored record.

  4. Lady Justice Asiimwe further explained in details that a cellphone is a computer as per the Information Technology Act. As such, she has ruled that WhatsApp messages are data messages.