There are many pieces of legislation in South Africa that require the use of plain legal language. In this article we focus on legislation that requires plain language communications. In our experience, people either don’t know or tend to ignore the plain language requirements when drafting documents. If any of the following legislation applies to you, you will break the law if you don’t comply with the plain language requirements.

There are eight pieces of legislation where plain language is required and eleven where it is referenced

There are very good business reasons to communicate and draft documents in plain language. In this article we deal with the legal requirement to do so. We can help you to use plain language in your organization.

Examples of legislation where plain language is required

Let’s look at some specific important examples where it is a requirement:

  1. Consumer Protection Act: under section 22 there is a “right to information in plain and understandable language“.
  2. National Credit Act 34 of 2005: section 64 makes provision for the “Right to information in plain and understandable language”.
  3. Long-Term Insurance Act 52 of 1998 and Short-Term Insurance Act 53 of 1998: The Rules and Regulations make provision for representations and information to a policyholder in “plain language, avoid[ing] uncertainty or confusion and not be[ing] misleading”. 
  4. Companies Act 71 of 2008:  Section 6(4)(b) provides that “the producer of a prospectus, notice, disclosure or document”must publish it “in plain language, if no form has been prescribed for that prospectus, notice,
    disclosure or document”.  Under section 6(6) the Commission may publish guidelines for methods of assessing whether it satisfies the plain language requirement.  These guidelines will be very interesting to read.
  5. Financial Advisory and Intermediary Service Act 37 of 2002: in terms of section 12 of the Rules and Regulations to the Act a broker must give medical scheme advice to a consumer in “plain, simple and understandable language”.
  6. Code of Banking Practice: in terms of clause 2 of the Code members of the Banking Association must undertake to give information on products and services “in plain language and ensure that all written terms and conditions are fair and clearly set out [the Consumer’s] rights and responsibilities in plain language“.
  7. Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005: the Code of Conduct prescribes that licensees must use “plain and understandable language” in their service contracts.
  8. Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act 70 of 2002: the Rules and Regulations make provision for information to be provided in a “readable, intelligible and understandable format”.

Other legislation where plain language is referenced

Some other legislation that refers to information in understandable, reasonable, clear, or plain form, include:

  1. Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  2. Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997
  3. Customs and Excise Act 91 of 1964
  4. Employment of Educator’s Act 138 of 1994
  5. Health Professions Act 56 of 1974
  6. Higher Education Act 101 of 1997
  7. Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act 95 of 1998
  8. Medicines And Related Substances Control Act 101 of 1965
  9. Military Veterans’ Affairs Act 17 of 1999
  10. Mine Health And Safety Act 29 of 1996
  11. Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999