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 plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of contract following its failure to pay in full – inclusive of VAT and penalties accruing from delayed payment – for construction services rendered. Two clear issues arose: whether the plaintiff was entitled to the sum claim and what remedies were available to the litigants. The contract provided for specific procedures in the event of disputes between its signatories. The plaintiff’s grievances with the project manager’s final certificate (which confirmed the amount owing by the defendant) ought to have been aired via these channels, so the defendant could be alerted thereto.
Because timeous and effective payment was based on certificates, the court found that the defendant could not be held liable for non-payment exceeding the certified amount. The court accordingly reduced the sum claim. Because the defendant had hampered the plaintiff’s commercial endeavours through its breach, it stood liable for general damages. The plaintiff provided no elucidation on the quantum thereof, and so its determination fell to the court’s discretion.
The defendant procured the services of the plaintiff for upgrades to some of the city’s drainage sites. Following the defendant’s non-payment – pursuant to the issuing of several interim payment certificates by the project manager – the plaintiff terminated the contract, upon which time a final certificate was issued by the project manager for work hitherto completed, in observance of the agreement’s termination procedure. The defendant objected to the payable figures outlined in the final certificate due to its apparent failure to factor in alleged performance anomalies on the part of the plaintiff. The defendant unilaterally reviewed the certificates before issuing a final certificate with a reduced outstanding fee. Establishing which set of certificates was legally enforceable formed the heart of the dispute.
The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, finding the defendant’s claims to be substantially impaired on several grounds. The regulations impacting the issue and review of payment certificates came into force after the conclusion of the contract, so general legal principles and the agreement’s terms took precedence in the court’s analysis. The defendant’s unilateral amendment of the final certificate did not accord with the parties’ General Conditions of Contract; it was not delivered to the plaintiff nor agreed to in writing thereby.
The issuing of final certificates creates a liquid debt – discrepancies ought to have been raised prior to certification and resolved by adjudication or arbitration as per the parties’ agreement. Failing this, the court found that the set-off sought by the plaintiff ought to have been raised in the current suit via counter-claim and not through unilateral adjustment of the final certificate.
The defendant was found further to have misrepresented a final certificate of completion to the plaintiff, following the project manager’s issuing thereof, and consequently estopped from raising the erroneous conduct of its project manager as a justification for its non-payment. The plaintiff was awarded damages with interest reflecting the conventional rate for commercial banking.