Comic Contracts: Lawyers in Australia and South Africa Use Cartoons to Illustrate and Simplify Contracts

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In most of the English-speaking world people are bound by the contracts they sign.  Whether or not they fully understand the terms of the contract is irrelevant.

Here in Massachusetts, for example, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled:

One who signs a written agreement is bound by its terms whether one reads and understands it or not or whether one can read or not.  Cohen v. Santoianni, 330 Mass. 187, 193 (1953).

To help reduce some of the unfairness that may arise from such a strict rule, lawyers in South Africa and Australia have begun adding illustrations to their contracts in order to make the documents easier to understand.

The “comic contract” method was pioneered by Robert de Rooy, a business attorney in Cape Town, South Africa.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation de Rooy explained his reasoning for animated contracts:

It started to bother me, that fact that the content of the contract was so much dominated by legalese…I started looking at different ways in which we could do contracts in a better way, and that led me to the work of some academics working on trying to use visualization to explain the terms of an agreement, to make the terms more accessible.

De Rooy created a contract now used by citrus farmers who employ seasonal workers.  Many of the workers are illiterate or unable to speak English.  Portions of the agreement are shown in the publication Quartz Africa.

Similar contracts are being used in Australia.  Professor of Law Camilla Andersen at the University of Western Australia has produced comic contracts for both her university and the City of Perth.

According to Professor Andersen,

I think what we are seeing is that we’re making law more approachable, we’re making it more clear. The idea is to reduce conflict and to focus more on driving behaviour rather than focusing on creating a legally binding instrument.

Andersen strongly believes that visual contracts are binding “although until we actually have a contract like this enforced by court somewhere we can’t know for sure.”

Former Chief Justice of Australia, Robert French, has stated that so long as the meaning of the comic contract is clear the agreement is binding.

If you have questions about contract law please contact me at justin@jrmccarthy.com.

 

 

 

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