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 case concerned an appeal of the High Court’s judgment regarding ownership of a house and the relevance of legislation relating to public officers in so far as the case was concerned.
The court considered whether the case before the High Court was a land matter and whether legislation relating to public officers was applicable to the case.
The court held that the case was indeed a land matter and that legislation relating to public officers that bars claims against public officers was not applicable to the case.
The court examined legislation and previous judgments and concluded that the legislation relating to public officers that barred claims against public officers due to prescription was not applicable to the case in the High Court because it was a land matter. The court stated that issues relating to land recovery, breach of contract and claims for work done were some of the exceptions to the application of the statute that barred claims against public officers. The court stated that since the subject matter of the case before the High Court concerned a house, it meant that the matter related to the recovery or retention of land or property.
Consequently, the appeal succeeded, the ruling of the High Court set aside, and the matter was remitted to the High Court to be heard afresh.
The appellant brought an appeal against the judgement of the High Court, where the lower court dismissed the appellant’s suit on grounds that the claim had prescribed.
The court considered whether the appellant’s right to a fair hearing could be determined despite having failed to initiate its case prior to it prescribing and whether the High Court correctly dismissed the appellant’s case due to prescription.
The court held that the appellant’s right to a fair hearing could not be determined under the circumstances. The court also held that the High Court incorrectly dismissed the appellant’s case without considering important aspects.
Regarding the right to a fair hearing; the court was of the view that since the appellant initiated their case by writ of summons for a declaration against the respondent, it was not an application for the enforcement of a fundamental right and it stood to be affected by the operation of a statute including any limitations the statute could have had. Furthermore, the court issued that the High Court ought to have made an inquiry as to the definition of a ‘public officer’ as used in the statute and if there were any exceptions to the statute that prescribes claims against public officers after three months. The omission by the High Court was held to be an error.
The appeal was successful, and the judgment of the High Court was set aside. Court ordered the case to be heardafresh by the High Court. No costs were ordered.
The issues for determination were whether this suit was time barred and whether the suit was bad in law for being in contravention of s 6 (2) of the Government Proceedings Act [Cap.5 R.E. 2002].
Section 6(2) of the Government Proceedings Act states that ‘no suit against the government shall be instituted, and heard unless the claimant previously submits to the government minister, department or officer concerned a notice of not less than ninety days of his intention to sue the government, specifying the basis of his claim against the government, and he shall send a copy of his claim to the Attorney-General.’
The court held that in determining the question of limitation, two principles must be considered. In the first place, the court must look at the whole suit, including the reliefs sought, and see if the suit combines more than one claim based on different causes of action as one of them may be found to be time barred while the others may not. In such circumstances, it is not proper to dismiss the whole suit as time barred. Second, the court, in interpreting the provisions of a law, should read those provisions in their context as a whole. Single sections should not be read or interpreted in isolation.
The court found that the suit against the government, having been prematurely instituted before complying with the mandatory provisions of section 6 (2) of the Government Proceedings Act, was bad in law and incompetent. The suit was dismissed.