Caveat subscriptor – let the signer beware Law Corner

2016-05-04 06:00

THE law states that a person who signs a contractual document does by his signature assent to the contents of the document, and if the contents turn out not to be to his liking he has no one to blame but himself.

The principle of the caveat subscriptor rule is that one’s consent is indicated by one’s signature to the document, irrespective of one’s true intentions. For this reason only an excusable mistake will allow you to escape any liability which may arise. You will not succeed in arguing that you did not read what you signed or that the contents do not reflect your intention.

It is implied that you agree to be bound by signing a document with an attitude of “I haven’t read this document, but I am signing it because I am prepared to be bound by it without reading it”.

A court case in the fifties demonstrates the caveat subscriptor rule. An experienced business man, who could not read or write English, was held to be bound by the conditions of a flight ticket, which he had signed without reading after jokingly asking whether he was signing his death warrant.

In this case the court decided that by signing he elected to take the risk. Another example of how the rule operates was seen in a case where a sick man, who couldn’t concentrate, was held bound by his signature on a document which contained Latin phrases he obviously wouldn’t have understood, as he signed the document without having someone explain the terms to him in a language he would understand.

In a Rhodesian court case a businessman signed a consent to judgment without reading it or having it explained to him by his attorneys, and he was held to be bound by his signature. In South Africa and in relatively recent times, our ex-Police Commissioner Bheki Cele bound the South African Police Service where he confirmed that he signed a number of documents without reading them.

It is in certain cases possible to raise defences to the caveat subscriptor rule such as misrepresentation, fraud, illegality, duress, undue influence and mistake. These defences are universally recognised. None of these defences are valid if it can be shown that the signatory was negligent. In a case of negligence, the person signing is bound by his signature.

Good advice to any person who is required to sign a document is - beware before you sign.


• R. H. Christie “The law of Contract in South Africa” 5th Edition 2006.

• www.cliffedekker

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Financial advisors – Do you need one and should you get one?

The good, the bad, and everything else you need to know when considering hiring a financial advisor.


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.