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.
This appeal is in relation to whether an order of non-suit was the appropriate order. The appeal originated from an institution of an action against the respondents. The action was centred around an order for damages, due to an unlawful dismissal from employment. The respondent disputed these claims as they contended that the contract was lawfully terminated.
The courts below granted judgment in favour of the appellant. However, in the Court of Appeal a piece of evidence belonging to the appellant was expunged on the ground that those pleadings did not constitute evidence. An order of non-suit was made by the Court of Appeal. It is that order of non-suit that gave rise to this appeal at the Supreme Court.
The appellant submitted that there was a breach of the fundamental right to fair hearing as the non-suit was instituted before hearing. Furthermore, he claimed to have satisfactorily proved his case for damages on the now expunged evidence and that this was therefore not a case in which an order of non-suit ought to have been made.
This court resolved this issue in the appellant's favour and the judgment of the Court of Appeal was set aside. Accordingly, this appeal was remitted to the Court of Appeal to be heard by a different panel.
The respondent/plaintiff had sued the appellant/defendant for a liquidated debt following its default in payment and successfully applied for the matter to be placed on the undefended list. There it was heard exclusively on the papers to the respondent/plaintiff’s success. Two issues emerged on appeal: whether the trial court’s judgment contradicted the evidence, and whether the appellant’s notice of intention to defend disclosed a defence on the merits of the case, thereby justifying the matter’s transfer to the general cause list.
The appellate court held in favour of the respondents on both issues, finding first that the court had been thorough in its analysis of the evidence before it, and had crafted a reasoned order reflecting this.
The judge elucidated the purpose of the undefended list as a vehicle for swift justice where a defendant has no credible case. This was one such instance; the court found that the appellant had failed to raise a triable issue warranting the matter’s transfer to the general cause list. The appellant’s allegations of fraud did not conform to the recognised rules for establishing such a claim and were found lack any substance.
The appellant unsuccessfully invoked s 36(1) of the Constitution, contending that its right to a fair hearing had been breached through its being deprived of a comprehensive trial. The court affirmed the lawful function of the undefended list, emphasising that parties are given equal opportunities to be heard via the papers. Where a defendant was unable to raise a triable issue against the plaintiff’s claim, it could not resort to arguing that audi alterem partem had been flouted.
The appeal was dismissed.
The crux of the matter is whether or not the trial court erred in holding the appellant/defendant was given ample opportunities but failed, refused and/or neglected to defend the suit and present its case before the court. The appellant contended that the lower court’s refusal to re-open the case amounted to a violation of its right to fair hearing. The court held that the appellant had ample time to defend its case but failed.
The second issue was whether the exhibits admitted by the lower court were deserving of ascription of any probative value. The court held that documentary evidence can be admitted in the absence of the maker; what matters is admissibility. This means that a document can be admitted without the court attaching probative value to it.
The court reiterated that where the lower court fails to examine documents tendered before it, an appellate court is in good position to evaluate such exhibits. The court thus held that the lower court erred when it held that the respondents were entitled to judgment.
In the result, the appeal succeeded even though the first issue was held in favor of the respondent.
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 appeal was against a garnishee order attaching a sum of approximately N97 million belonging to the appellant granted by the lower court. The appeal was based on the claim that the garnishee order was made without hearing the appellants’ earlier motion for a of stay execution. This, the appellants argued, was a violation of their right to a fair trial.
The respondent raised a preliminary objection that the appellant had no standing because it was judgement debtor, not the garnishee. It further argued that the appellants had not obtained leave to appeal.
The appellants responded by pointing out that they were respondents to the garnishee application, and that the funds that were to be attached belonged to them. Thus, they had locus standi (the standing and right to file this appeal).
The court held that it is only the garnishee that can appeal an order made by the court. It ruled that garnishee proceedings are strictly between the creditor and the garnishee. It found that the appellant lacked locus standi to file the appeal and the appeal was dismissed.
This is an appeal against a High Court decision granting a summary judgement. The dispute emanated from share trading facility offered to the appellant company by the respondent bank. However, the appellant failed to pay for the shares when payment fell due, prompting the respondent to approach the court where a summary judgement was awarded in favor of the respondent.
The appellant appealed the decision on the ground that it was not given a fair hearing. It pointed out that the determination through summary judgement ignored issues of merit. The appellant argued that sufficient issues had been raised to warrant a full trial of the case, and that it had a bona fide defense.
The respondent opposed the appeal on the basis that the summary judgement was employed to prevent a sham defense, and that an objection to summary judgement must address a specific claim not a general sweeping denial of the claim.
The court held that the case hinges on whether the appellant’s defense constitutes a triable issue. It found that the appellant failed to raise triable issues. It held that the trial court was correct in finding that the appellant defense was a sham. It ruled that the appellant was indebted to the respondent. The appeal was thus dismissed.
Freedom of association – Labour unions – Membership in labour union
The court considered an application by way of notice on motion for an interlocutory injunction restraining the respondents from enforcing the National Media Regulations pending the court’s determination of the substantive suit. The substantive suit related to declarations that the requirement for prior authorization of consent as well as the criminal sanctions were contrary to the Constitution.
The court confirmed that whereas in public law, a court ought to be slow in granting interlocutory injunction, it still has the power to grant one. This is especially so in exceptional cases where there is a need to restrain enforcement of legislation that is being challenged on substantial grounds. The courts will grant an injunction to avoid irreparable injury being caused by the enforcement of a potentially unconstitutional piece of legislation that is being challenged. On this basis, the application was granted.
The case related to a petroleum agreement between the Ghanaian government and a Norwegian company. The agreement was ratified by Parliament, but the Minister of Energy thereafter refused the company’s assignment of their Petroleum Agreement to its wholly owned local subsidiary. The question was whether Parliament’s permission is required to terminate a resource exploitation transaction, as they ratify it. The rationale for ratification is for transparency, openness and participation in matters involving natural resources but the exercise of checks and balances does not extend to approving termination of agreements that the executive has jurisdiction over. The court held that whereas Parliament ratified these agreements, the act remains an act of the executive and Parliament’s approval is not needed to terminate the agreement.
The court was called upon to determine who was entitled to ownership and possession of property in dispute between two purchasers. One purchaser claimed the property because they executed a writ of fieri facias (writ of fifa) attaching the property to recover a debt but this was not executed. A writ of fifa is a document issued by the court for the purpose of enforcing a judgment debt by permitting a judgment debtor to have a legal right to seize the losing party’s property to recover the amount due to them
Sometime later another party attended an auction, another purchaser purchased the same piece of property.
The court held that the sale at the auction was illegal because of the principle of nemo dat which provides that the first person to get title is entitled to that property notwithstanding any subsequent sale. Therefore even though the writ of fifa has expired, the party who got judgment get title to the property as judgment debtor.
The High Court gave a summary judgment in favour of a party relating to a declaration of title to a house, payment of accumulated rent and an order of ejection. The Court of Appeal overturned the judgment but invoked supervisory jurisdiction to make an order compelling issuing of land title to the interested party.
The court held that the interested party could not apply for the supervisory jurisdiction for a judgment that was overturned – and this was impermissible. A party is not permitted to undermine a decision of an appellate court overturning a decision of the trial court to apply for supervisory jurisdiction when the judgment to be supervised has been set aside. For these reasons the application to set aside the supervisory orders was set aside.
The court considered an application for a declaration on how to interpret an order made by the Supreme Court on the subject of a register of voters. The court provided that a party can apply to clarify a previous decision of the court to make it easier to understand, especially in cases where part of the judgment is ambiguous. The court has inherent jurisdiction to clarify a judgment, but such clarification cannot be used to make a substantive change to the existing decision. An application to clarify a judgment cannot be used to ask the court make the same order again as this would amount to suing a party again for the same cause.
The court in this case clarified the issue of what was meant by ‘delete’ names from the register of voters, but refused to clarify the judgment to the extent that would amount to modifying or altering the substance of the judgment.
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.
The dispute emanated from a decision of the appeal court to overturn compensation award given to the appellant by the High Court.
The appellant was offered 6.19 acres of land by the respondent under a lease agreement. The respondent after 10 years was ordered to cede the land leased to the appellant back to its original owners. The respondent took 5 acres from the appellant leaving him with 1.6 acres of the land which was given to him for free. After 11 years the appellant successfully claimed compensation for the 5 acres taken, a decision which was later overturned by the appeal court.
The appellant was now appealing against the decision to overturn the compensation award. He argued that the trial court erred by concluding that the 1.6 acres given to him was compensation. He further contended that there was no evidence to show that as the respondent’s employee he manipulated the system to allocate himself land. The respondent maintained that there was evidence to show that the 1.6 acres allocated to the appellant was compensation and that he manipulated the system to allocate himself large pieces of land.
In deciding the matter, the court held that the appellant was the lessee and not the owner of the land in dispute. He was not entitled to any compensation. It ruled that the 1.6 acres that he received was more than enough compensation. It further ruled that the appeal court never said the appellant manipulated the system. The appeal was thus dismissed.
The matter involves an application brought by judicial service staff’s union (plaintiff) over a dispute about their pension scheme and benefits.
First the court had to determine whether the phrase ‘all persons serving in the Judiciary’ applies in exclusion of non-bench judicial service staff and whether the plaintiff’s members were constitutionally subjected to the CAP 30 pension scheme or the SSNIT scheme. First, it established the consistent meaning of ‘judiciary’ in the constitution as that body that exercises judicial power and administers justice. The constitutional definition of judiciary therefore did not include non-bench judicial staff. The effect thus is that the plaintiff’s members were not placed under the CAP 30 pension scheme since they did not belong to the constitutionally-delineated class constituting the Judiciary. It should be noted, however, a dissenting opinion took on a more expansive approach that included the non-bench staff. Nevertheless, the court concluded the placing of the plaintiff’s members on the SSNIT scheme was not wrongful or in constitutional violation.
On the questions of discrimination, the court reasoned that as employment matters are purely contractual, the conduct of differential treatment in employment conditions did not amount to discrimination. It did, however, in holding for the plaintiff, decry the inconsistencies with best practices in remuneration management and constitutional procedures.
The court also held for the plaintiff by finding that the President could not delegate his function under arts 149 and 158(2) as this would be unconstitutional. Further, it also found ss 213(1)(a) and 220 of Act 766 to be unconstitutional to the extend it conflicts with constitutional provisions.
This case considered whether employees who were claiming compensation for loss of employment were ‘permanent employees’ in terms of an employment contract. The case additionally concerns whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence.
The plaintiffs contended that they were employed by the respondent as permanent employees in terms of an employment contract. The respondent subsequently went into liquidation and the plaintiffs claimed for loss of compensation.
The court held that for a plaintiff to be entitled to benefits as an ex-employee, they should spell out clearly the terms of their employment as contained in their contract of employment and then prove their entitlements under those terms. The plaintiffs assume the burden of persuasion and producing evidence, however, it was clear that they were unable to produce a written agreement which spells out their terms of employment. The court found that any contract of employment for more than six months which was not in writing was unenforceable.
The plaintiffs had been employed for 10 and 12 years respectively, but failed to obtain letters of appointment. It became apparent that they were only employed for the duration that they were engaged on a particular voyage.
The court found that to be a permanent employee one would need to prove employment through the use of a contract of employment, which was in writing and could be used as evidence to illustrate the terms thereof. In this case, the plaintiffs were only employees when the respondents required their services. Furthermore, the court held that the Court of Appeal had not misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence as the plaintiff failed to properly prove their claim.
The matter involved an appeal against the decision of the High Court, a decision the appellant contends was arrived at under error of procedural law.
The main issue was whether the decision of the lower court was defective for its failure to afford the appellant her right to be heard. The court relied on case law to establish that it is necessary to afford a party a fair hearing upon making an adverse decision. It accepted the position in Scan - Tan Tours Ltd v the Registered Trustee of the Catholic Diocese of Mbulu Civil Appeal No. 78 of 2012 that when an issue that is pivotal to the whole case is introduced the parties should be given a chance to address the matter before the court. In addition, the court relied on the Rukwa Auto Parts and Transport Ltd v Jestina George Mwakyoma Civil Appeal No. 45 and Abbas Sherally and Another v Abdul Fazalboy Civil Application No. 33 of 2002 cases as authority for the proposition that failure to allow for the right to be heard constituted a breach of natural justice, a fundamental constitutional right.
The court reasoned that the trial court had failed to uphold the appellant’s right to be heard when it arrived at its decision and therefore violated a constitutional right. Hence, the court concluded that the decision could not be allowed and consequently nullified the impugned decision.
The matter involved a dispute over an order of suit property sale as a remedy for breach of a loan agreement granted by the trial court against the appellant.
The first question was whether the responded had paid the whole stipulated loan amount to the appellant. Assessing the evidence in the record from the trial court, the court reasoned that the trial court’s assessment had failed to evaluate crucial evidence that showed doubt in the respondent’s claim that the whole stipulated amount had been paid. The court thus concluded that the evidence indicated that the responded had failed to fully honor its performance obligation. As a result, the responded could not pursue the remedy of obliging the appellant to transfer the property for failure to repay the loan.
The second issue concerned the right to mesne profits (i.e. profits received by tenant in wrongful possession and which are recoverable by the landlord) by the appellant and the amounts due. The court did not dwell much on the question of entitlement, instead accepting the trial court’s finding of indisputable occupation and rental collection by responded as a basis together with the fact that responded could not justify the occupation.
The court thus concluded that mesne profits were owed but order that they be set-off to the amount of the loan that the appellant still owed. The decision of the trial court was therefore set-aside and appeal allowed.
Aggrieved by a High Court decision concerning a dispute with the respondent, the applicant sought leave to escalate the matter to the Court of Appeal. The High Court summarily rejected the application without notice to the parties and prior to the set-down date of the hearing.
The appellate court was wholly convinced by the applicant’s main contention: that the High Court judgment was impugnable because the parties had not yet been heard at the time it was given. Outlining the basic tenets of the audi alterem partem principle, the court affirmed that courts are obligated to afford the parties a full hearing before determining the disputed matter on merit.
The appellate court invoked its revisional powers under section 4(3) of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, setting aside the High Court’s decision and directing it to rehear the application.