Standard Bank loses case for failure to use plain language

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The judgment in Standard Bank v Dlamini is good news for all plain language practitioners. Finally we have some case law to back the consumer's right to plain language given in terms of the NCA and the CPA.

Without giving the game away too much (I will be analysing the case in the November edition of the Consumer Law Review), here are the highlights:

  • Mr Dlamini bought a second hand car in terms of a hire-purchase agreement with Standard Bank.
  • Within days the vehicle stopped working and Mr Dlamini returned the vehicle.
  • He unfortunately did not follow the return procedure set out in the credit agreement which resulted in sizable financial losses.
  • Mr Dlamini held that he did not know that he had to notify the bank (in addition to the dealership) in order for the cancellation to be valid. Matters were complicated by the fact that Mr Dlamini did not understand English and is functionally illiterate.
  • In the end, the entire agreement was declared unlawful because it was not in plain language, to the extent that Mr Dlamini was not informed of the material terms of the agreement.

During the course of the judgment the plain language provision of the NCT is analysed and compared to the common law. It is however the reformulation of the plain language test and its application to the particular facts which are particularly interesting.

The time for ignoring the plain language provisions of these two acts or glibly saying that compliance is not possible is over.

[The case was decided in Durban on 23 October 2012, case no 2877/2011 and is available on www.saflii.org]