The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
The dispute emanated from an agreement between the appellant and the respondents to clear a debt owed to the appellant by the respondents. The agreement provided for reduction of the debt on the grounds that the respondents pay an initial payment of 500 million and the balance before the exit of Central Bank examiners who had who had come to inspect the appellant bank. After payment of all debt, the appellant required the respondents to pay R5.5 billion alleging that it did not pay the balance as agreed.
The respondents approached the court and an order that parties should maintain status quo until the matter was resolved was granted. The appellant then filed a petition to wind up the respondents which prompted the respondents to approach the court seeking a committal order arguing that the appellant was in contempt of court. This was opposed by a preliminary objection seeking to strike out the committal order. The court granted the objection while pointing out that it had no jurisdiction to decide on the matter.
The appellant appealed the decision to strike out citing lack of jurisdiction of the trial judge and that the judge did not consider all issues raised by appellants and that it should have dismissed not strike out the committal order.
The held that the trial judge correctly dealt with the issue and that since he had no jurisdiction, it was not necessary for him to consider issues regarding the merits of the case and dismissed the appeal.
The matter involve a ruling of contempt of court against the third and fourth respondents for their conduct in attacking the Chief Justice with an accusation of bias.
The court emphasised the importance of judicial independence as enshrined in the Constitution as a necessary element in maintaining judicial dignity and effectiveness, attributes that are crucial in upholding the democratic enterprise. Any attempt to disrespect the courts therefore amounts to an attack on the role of the courts and the community at large.
The court also emphasised the right to criticise the judiciary and its circumspection in exercising its power to charge citizens with contempt. However, should the conduct be of such gross a nature as to indicate a calculated attack, as in the present matter, the court would not refrain from the charge.
The court, however, acknowledged the harsh nature of the summary powers to charge for contempt, powers it accepted required circumspection. Nevertheless, the court considered the need to send a message to remind people to refrain from crossing the line between utilizing their freedom of expression and attacking the dignity of the court. It also invoked the principles of state policy which place duties to the citizenry to ensure the exercise of their freedoms upheld fundamental democratic principles. In the view of the court, the contemnors in question had dismally failed the above and therefore they were sentenced for contempt.