The Time of Our Lives: working days, business days and the computation of time in law

29 March 2022


Time flies when you are having fun, however, when it comes to more serious matters like engaging in contracts, being able to tell a cutoff date and measuring time correctly, watching the clock can have a large impact on one’s life.

While time itself is a human construct, our daily lives and business affairs cannot run without it. The passing of time has determined life as we know it, for as long as we know it. Because time has taken on such an important aspect in our lives it makes the way we spend the hours in our day either time well spent or a waste of time. 

The computation of time therefore being a vital ingredient to make society run, it is important that one also knows how to calculate the passing of time in order to beat the clock when it comes down to it. This can be dependent on what kind of matter one is dealing with, how many days, months or years have passed as well as whether one is looking at business, calendar or court days.

Working days, business days and the computation of time in law

Having a field day deciphering business days,
calendar days and court days

When the clock is ticking, it is good to be able to determine in terms of what days one is counting the passing of time. Whether one has a certain amount of business days or calendar days until the eleventh hour can make a large difference. The following definitions are thus important to take into consideration

Calendar days mean every day of the week as listed in a calendar, hence its name. This means all days including a Saturday, Sunday and public holiday are included within the calculation of time.

A business, or working day, means any day besides a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday. It usually entails a day on which one works (Monday to Friday).

In terms of litigation matters, the computation of time entails court days. These are days calculated as per when court is in session. Weekends and public holidays are excluded from the calculation of the passage of time according to court days.

The computation of time

There are two methods in which time is calculated in law: either by applying the civil method of calculating time or the statutory method.

The civil method of calculating time:
This method is based on the de die in dim maxim which follows a prescribed period whereby the first day is included and the last day not. This method is applied to the calculation of longer periods of time from six months or longer e.g. in the law of contract.

The statutory method of calculating time:
Should one wish to calculate a shorter time span, e.g. days and months as opposed to years, according to Section 4 of the Interpretation Act 33 of 1957 (“the Interpretation Act”), time is calculated by excluding the first day and including the last day of a certain period of time.

Section 4 of the Interpretation Act states under the reckoning of number of days:
“When any particular number of days are prescribed for the doing of any act, or for any other purpose, the same shall be reckoned exclusively of the first and inclusively of the last day, unless the last day happens to fall on a Sunday or on any public holiday, in which case the time shall be reckoned exclusively of the first day and exclusively also of every such Sunday or public holiday.”

Section 4 of the Interpretation Act becomes applicable when:

  • The legislature does not provide for an alternative;
  • The case relates to a piece of legislation (unlike contracts);
  • The rules of court must be adhered to like in civil or criminal procedure

Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are excluded from the calculation of time. Should Section 4 not be applicable, the computation of time will replace the statutory method of calculating time.

Calling it a day

In conclusion, when days are literally numbered, it is important to consider the above in order correctly calculate the computation of time. Simply distinguishing calendar days from business days to court days or knowing to apply the civil method over the statutory one could make all the difference of turning a rainy day into a lucky day.

Celine Bakker, Author.

Find out more about Celine Bakker, a Candidate Attorney at SL Law. She graduated from Stellenbosch University with a BA (law) majoring in German and completed her LLB degree at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, focussing on Tech and Artificial Intelligence Law.


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