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 parties entered into a business transaction for the supply and installation of a saw-mill. However, the transaction was not covered by a properly drawn up contract. Furthermore, it became apparent that the plaintiff provided the defendant with a plant which was defective and not fit for the purpose it was intended.
This case considered whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself to the defects contained in the machinery, whether there was a breach of a fundamental obligation and whether the goods sold were fit for the purpose which they were intended to be used.
The court considered the Sale of Goods Act, 137 of 1962 (the act) and found that the breach of a promise under the act depends on the category of promise; either a fundamental obligation, condition or a warranty. Breach of a fundamental obligation or a condition entitles the party not in default to repudiate the contract of sale and if it is the seller who is in breach, the buyer can reject the goods. The breach of a warranty cannot lead to a repudiation or rejection of the goods but will entitle the party not in breach to damages. However, a party entitled to repudiation and rejection may waive their right and opt for damages.
The court considered whether the goods were fit for the purpose that they were provided for. The plaintiff sold the machinery in the course of its business on condition that it will be fit for the purpose of saw milling. A machine is fit for purpose if it is able to perform the task for which it was acquired, safely and for a reasonable period, before defects appear. The court found that a saw mill should not break down after 11 days of operation and therefore did not meet the standard of the purpose for which it was intended. The court found that as a result of the defect, the defendant was entitled to general damages as a result of the failure of the saw mill being fit for purpose.
In this case the defendant raised a preliminary objection to the suit on grounds that the suit is time barred and that the High Court of Uganda has no jurisdiction to try the suit. The court stated that it could not decide on the issue of time until it makes a determination on whether it could exercise its jurisdiction in the matter. The court relied on article 139 of the Constitution and the rule that a contract cannot oust the jurisdiction of the high court and held that a clause to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the foreign court is enforceable by the High Court. However, the court stated that the jurisdiction of the court in such circumstances is subject to the plaintiff justifying the filing of the action in Uganda, for instance by proving that the defendant was using the exclusive jurisdiction clause to avoid liability. The court was satisfied that the plaintiff in this case had failed to do so. Accordingly, the court enforced the terms of the contract, sustained the preliminary objection and dismissed the suit with costs.
The defendants applied for credit facilities to obtain steel products from the plaintiff. The second and third defendants stood surety. The plaintiff contended that the defendants refused to pay for the steel products. The proceedings were for breach of contract, and special and general damages. The defendants denied concluding the contract, and argued the matter ought to be heard in South Africa.
The issues for determination were whether the court lacked jurisdiction; whether there was a contract between the parties; whether the defendants breached the contract; and whether second and third defendants were liable.
On the issue of jurisdiction, the court considered the agreement. It was clear that the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the High Court of South Africa, however the court held that the Constitution and Judicature Act provided it with unlimited original jurisdiction in all matters. Even when parties had an exclusive jurisdiction agreement, the High Court of Uganda still had jurisdiction to hear and determine the matter before it.
Regarding the existence of the contract, the law required the plaintiff to prove the documents were signed by the second and third defendants. The court found that the plaintiff proved it entered into a valid contract with the defendants.
Whether the defendants breached the contract, the court held that the first defendant breached the contract by failing to pay for the goods, and that the second and third defendants were liable as sureties.
Plaintiff was awarded special and general damages.
The court considered the issue of jurisdiction and whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the matter based on a contract which was concluded to be governed under Dutch law.
The defendants breached their contract as a result of not being able to fulfil their obligations in terms of the contract, and subsequently they unilaterally terminated the contracts.
The defendant contended that the application should be dismissed as the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the suit.
The court found that where parties have bound themselves to an exclusive jurisdiction clause, they ought to comply with that obligation, unless the party who is suing outside the scope of the prescribed jurisdiction gives adequate justification for doing so.
The court found that in order to dispute a jurisdiction, you have to show that the intention was to evade the operation of the provision in the relevant law, and that there was an element of fraud or duress or other evidence of mala fides (meaning an act done in bad faith). If these elements cannot be proved, then the selected forum will be upheld.
The court held that the contract was drawn and executed in Uganda, the plaintiffs reside in Uganda and if the matter was heard in a different jurisdiction the cost of housing, transporting and feeding a number of witnesses, including cost of counsel in a different jurisdiction would be nonsensical and would deny the defendants access to court.
The court found that the expertise of courts in Uganda are competent to deal with the matter, and as a result they had the required jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Application is denied.
Contract – limitation of liability clause – suing in delict to escape application of limitation of liability clause
Delict – wrongfulness – duty of care