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 subject matter of this appeal was an allegedly defamatory letter published by the appellant bank, relating to the respondent. This letter was compiled by the second appellant who was the bank’s employee, directed to the respondent’s employer. The contents related the respondent's alleged indebtedness to the bank and sought their cooperation in recovering the debt. It later transpired that this letter ought to not have been sent, as there was in fact no debt as alleged.
The respondent then claimed that the letter was defamatory and instituted a claim for damages. The appellants counterclaimed and raised the defence of qualified privilege. The courts below entered judgments in favour of the respondent and awarded damages in his favour.
The question on appeal is whether the court below was right to have held that the defence of qualified privilege did not avail the appellants.
The appellants went to great lengths to show that the second appellant and the respondent had never met before the defamatory letter was written and argued that this fact rebutted the inference of actual malice. The respondent claimed that the second appellant was motivated by malice in writing the letter.
This court found that the finding of the court below that the appellants were actuated by malice was erroneous. On the basis that the pleading lacks malice as a requirement, the appeal was upheld.
The base of the suit was defamation whereby the plaintiff averred that the defendants defamed him.
The first issue was whether there was defamation and who was defamed among the two defendants. The court states that it is crucial in the commercial arena to inquire whether the published statement concerns the business itself or someone affiliated with the business in his individual capacity. Generally, the defamation must refer to the person defamed. In this case it had to be specifically pleaded whether the alleged defamation referred to the company business or to plaintiff witness individually.
For the second issue of whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the matter, it relied the principle contained in section 13 of the Civil Procedure Code that every suit must be instituted in the court of the lowest grade competent to try it. The object and purpose of the said provision is to prevent overcrowding in the court of higher grade where a suit may be filed in a court of lower grade; to avoid multifariousness of litigation and to ensure that case involving huge amount must be heard by a more experienced court. The suit should have been properly instituted either in the District Court or in the Court of the Resident Magistrate which have competent jurisdiction to try the same.
The court concluded that a cause of action arises when facts on which liability is founded exist of which there were none in this instance. Thus the suit was rejected.