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 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 appellant was charged and found guilty of obtaining money under false pretenses; he then brought an appeal against the ruling of the High Court before the appellate court.
The court was faced with two issues, the first being whether the High Court was justified in convicting the appellant on allegations of misrepresentation not covered in the charge. The second issue was whether the high court was correct to convict the appellant for misrepresentation and seize his property.
The court held that the High Court was justified in convicting the appellant and that the allegations of misrepresentation were covered in the charge. The court further held that the High Court made no error in seizing the appellant’s property following the conviction.
By evaluating witness testimonies and the evidence led in the High Court, the court stated that the appellant had indeed misrepresented himself to the witnesses so they could part with monies and invests with the appellant. The court was of the view that sufficient evidence was led in the High Court which justified the conviction of the appellant. Regarding the seizure of property, the court stated that the High Court exercised its inherent powers to make an order of forfeiture since the appellant bought and used the property to carry out his illegal operations for which he was convicted.
The appeal was unsuccessful and the judgement of the High Court (conviction and sentence) was upheld.
This case concerns liability for damage caused to a vessel.
The court considered whether the trial court had jurisdiction over the second appellant which was only served indirectly. The court held that where a party does not object to any irregularity or invalidity in the service of process on him before
The trial court, he waives his right. In this case the second appellant, then defendant, did not object. Consequently, the court found that the trial court did indeed have jurisdiction.
The second ground of appeal was declared incompetent.
The court also considered whether the trial court had taken into account all evidence. It held that where a trial court unquestionably evaluates the evidence adduced and appraises the facts, it is not the business of the appellate court to substitute it is own view. The court was satisfied that the trial court took all evidence into account, although it was not explicitly referred to in the judgement. Consequently, the court decided against the appellants.
The court finally considered whether the negligence precludes the right to limit liability. It held that the ship master is the alter ego of the vessel on behalf of the owner. Consequently, the owner, together with the other appellants, was held jointly and severally liable.
The appeal was dismissed.
The issue was whether the state high court has jurisdiction over matters that are governed by the Investment and Security Act (the act). The case emanated from a dispute where the appellant was being sued in the court aqua for defrauding the respondents of units of shares. The appellant had raised a preliminary objection that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the matter which was dismissed. The appellant thus was challenging the dismissal of the objection.
The appellant argued that the trial judge erred in dismissing its objection on the basis that jurisdiction of the high court is limited and excludes matters that are regulated by the act. The appellant pointed out that disputes around the act should be determined by the Investment and Security Tribunal (the tribunal).
The respondent opposed the appeal on the grounds that the trial judge was correct because the jurisdiction of the high court was unlimited. They argued that the dispute emanates from torts, conspiracy and fraud which fall within jurisdiction of the high court and that the act was unconstitutional.
The court ruled that s 270 of the act establishes the tribunal to resolve disputes that fall under the act. It observed that s 284 of the act give the tribunal exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters regarding capital markets. It held that the dispute revolved around capital market operator (appellant) and its clients (respondents) hence it falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the tribunal. It concluded that the trial judge erred and the appeal was upheld.
The issue was whether the High Court had jurisdiction to order the freezing of the bank accounts of the applicant.
The dispute emanated from an order to freeze the applicant’s three bank accounts after allegations of money laundering by the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC). The applicant was accused of illegally receiving approximately US$ 43 000 and remittance of US$ 39 000 from a Canadian company. The applicant tried without success to apply to defreeze the bank accounts.
The applicant further applied arguing that the Anti-Money Laundering Act (the act) only allowed the bank accounts to be frozen for one year. It pointed out that the High Court exceeded its jurisdiction when it dismissed the application because the statutory period of 12 months had lapsed. They also challenged the decision to freeze all the accounts including money that was not part of the laundering investigation on the basis that it was an infringement of the right to natural justice.
The FIC argued that that investigation of allegation of fraud, which is criminal in nature, is not affected by time constraints.
The court held that one year was enough for FIC to investigate any alleged wrong-doing. It ruled that High Court lacked the jurisdiction to order the continuous freezing of the accounts of the applicant beyond the one year. It further ruled that moneys which stood in the accounts of the applicants before any alleged illegal transfers into the accounts should not form part of the freezing order.
This was an appeal based on an action to set aside a consent judgment obtained before a court of competent jurisdiction on grounds of fraud.
The court determined whether such a consent judgment could be set aside despite its finality. The court observed that an appeal would not ordinarily lie against a consent judgment and that bringing a fresh action to challenge the validity of a consent judgment was a standard and accepted procedure. Thus, the court held that the court of appeal erred in treating the case as res judicata. The court also determined whether the Court of Appeal erred in striking the matter summarily when fraud was in issue. It was held that Court of Appeal erroneously denied the plaintiff a hearing leading to a violation of fundamental rule of natural justice.
Accordingly, the appeal was allowed, the judgments the High Court and the Court of Appeal were set aside and the court ordered a trial on the merits based on the pleadings as they stood at the High Court.
The respondent sold a car to a man who paid half price and took the vehicle
leaving the original registration book with the respondent. The new buyer on
the same day sold the car to the appellant. The respondent bought a suit
against the appellant and his predecessor in title for orders of specific
performance of the sale agreement, damages, interest and costs of the suit.
The trial court entered judgment for the respondent and the appellant’s
appeal to the court of appeal was dismissed hence this appeal.
This is a second appeal by the appellant, both
his original suit in the High Court and his
subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal
having been dismissed. The background is
that the appellant thought to borrow money
from the respondent and gave security as his
land, the issued cheque bounced and the
respondent used the security to secure a
mortgage from the first respondent which he
failed to pay and the first respondent sold the
land. The appellant was evicted and the
business closed and the appellant alleged
fraud but was unsuccessful both at high court
and court of appeal hence this appeal on the
grounds of the sale of land using the power of
attorney, the validity of the mortgage on the
appellants land, holding on fraud, improper
consideration of the evidence on record and
complete disregard of the facts.
This case considered whether the appellant had obtained the title of suit property by fraud. The court considered the grounds which would constitute fraud. It was found that fraud means actual fraud or some act of dishonesty. The court held that fraud must be proved strictly, the burden being heavier than on a balance of probabilities generally applied in civil matters. Accordingly, the fraud requires some act of dishonesty.
The court considered whether; the land occupied by the respondent was registered land, the grant of the lease was fraudulent, and estoppel is applicable.
The court held that s 31(1) of the Land Act gives security of tenure to a tenant on registered land. Moreso, the implications of the abolitions of statutory leases in terms of art 237 of the Constitution remains a grey area. The court also held that security of tenure protects a bona fide occupant 's interest. Also, under s 176 of the Registration of Titles Act, a registered proprietor is protected against ejectment except in certain cases including fraud. Further, to procure registration of title to defeat an unregistered interest amounts to fraud. The court also held that registration tainted with fraud does not give rise to the doctrine of estoppel.
The court found that respondent must continue occupation because they were in undisturbed possession and occupation before the 1995 Constitution. The abolition of statutory leases did not automatically extinguish such right. Also found that fraud was attributable to appellants because the grant and registration of suit land in the name of the second appellant was intended to defeat the unregistered interest of the respondent.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal with costs. Further ordered the first appellant to give due consideration to the respondent's application for a lease over the suit land including giving it a priority in the granting of the lease.
A dispute between the company and the bank arose in respect of a specimen signature card allegedly issued for Susan Margaret Howard Bristow (Susan) as a director of the company. The dispute arose because the signature of Dr. Alex Babitunga authenticating Susan's specimen signature card was apparently forged. Additional words written on the card, altering the previous arrangements with the bank requiring two signatures for authorisation of withdrawals, appeared without any initials, signatures, authentication or stamping by the person or persons who cancelled them. The bank permitted certain withdrawals from the company bank account in accordance with the instructions on the card; as opposed to the earlier instructions.
The respondent alleged that the appellant had acted in breach of its duty to the respondent as its customer and had been negligent in permitting the respondent’s accounts to be cleared of all the money in them without the respondent’s authority.
The issues were whether the lower court erred in law and in fact in not holding that the respondent was estopped from saying that Susan Bristow was not an authorized signatory to the respondent's account.
The court explained that the principles of estoppel provides that when one person has, by his or her declaration, act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon that belief, neither he or she nor his or her representative shall be allowed, in any suit or proceeding between himself or herself and that person or his or her representative, to deny the truth of that thing. One of the conditions for the doctrine to apply is, therefore that the act or omission by the person against whom estoppel is to be set up, as a defense, must have been intentionally caused, in the instant case the fraud which the two courts below found had caused the appellant to act to its detriment believing it to be true was unknown to the respondent until the police report. The court held that the defense of estoppel was not available to the bank against the company because the respondent was unaware of Susan's fraudulent signatures on the cheques until the police investigation and report.
The court held that all documents concerning the respondent's accounts were in the possession and custody of appellant bank. Only the appellant knew and was responsible for entries on the bank accounts, it bore responsibility as the banker to what entries were made on those accounts without respondent's authority. The appeal was therefore dismissed with costs.
Contract – limitation of liability clause – suing in delict to escape application of limitation of liability clause
Delict – wrongfulness – duty of care
This case looked at the whether the veil of incorporation could be lifted and the defendants held liable for the debt of the company as a result of their alleged fraudulent dealings.
The court considered that when the device of incorporation is used for some illegal or improper purpose, the court may disregard the principle that a company is an independent legal entity and lift the veil of corporate identity. A corporate personality can never be used as a cloak or a mask for fraud. The veil of incorporation will be lifted where it is proved that the company is being misused by its directors to perpetuate fraud.
The standard of proof in fraud cases requires a higher degree of probability than the proof required to demonstrate negligence.
The applicant failed to adequately plead the allegation of fraud. Accordingly, the veil of incorporation could not be lifted. The case was dismissed with costs.
This case considered the instance when the veil of incorporation can be lifted. The mind of a company where guilty intent or responsibility is being considered cannot be separated from the minds of the directors. The corporate veil ought to be lifted where there is proof of involvement of the directors in fraud. Once there has been an allegation of fraud against the company, the directors are ay virtue alleged to be involved. Accordingly, the veil of incorporation will be lifted where it is proved that the directors, acting as the mind and body of the company were involved in an act of dishonesty.
This was an action claiming monies allegedly siphoned from the plaintiff’s bank account with the participation and/or collusion of the defendant; and damages for the defendant’s breach of the fiduciary duty as branch manager. The defendant filed a counterclaim that his continued suspension and dismissal was unlawful.
The issues for consideration were whether the defendant caused financial loss to the plaintiff; whether the suspension and/or dismissal was lawful; and the available remedies.
Regarding the first issue, the court held that the suit rested on the allegation that the defendant kept 26 cheques. The court held that it was not proved that the defendant kept the cheques beyond the three days alleged by the plaintiff; however the court found that the defendant knew the cheques were kept beyond the three days. As a result, the defendant was jointly liable with a Mr Patrick Kigongo.
On the second issue, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to suspend the defendant as he was charged with a criminal offence. Management may dismiss an employee who was facing criminal prosecution if their continued employment would prejudice the interests of the bank. However, the defendant was suspended without pay contrary to regulation 30 of the terms and conditions of service; and the termination was without notice of disciplinary action, without a right of defence, and was thus unlawful.
The plaintiff was awarded general damages. The defendant was awarded his full salary from the date of suspension until the date of termination.
This case looked at the whether the veil of incorporation could be lifted and the defendants held liable for the debt of the company. The court looked at the instances when lifting of the corporate veil was applicable. There are three instances when the veil of incorporation can be lifted. 1) when a court in construing a statute, contract or other documents; 2) when the court is satisfied that the company is a mere façade concealing the true facts and 3) when it is established that the company is an authorized agent of its members/directors.
Further, the veil of incorporation can be lifted when the veil of incorporation is used as an instrument of fraud. The standard of proof required in cases of fraud is more onerous that the ordinary balance of probabilities. Section 20 of the Companies Act (‘the act’) empowers a court to lift the veil of incorporation against directors where there is any involvement in fraud by the directors. Fraud was defined to mean any act of dishonesty or actual fraud.
The court found in this case that the plaintiff was barred from instituting action against the defendants. Accordingly, the claim was dismissed with costs.
In 1998 the appellant filed a suit against the respondent, to which the responded reacted with a counter-claim. The appellant’s claim was withdrawn in 2006 but the respondent’s counter-claim was not. The trial judge ruled in favour of the respondent. The appellants were dissatisfied with the decision and filed an appeal.
The Court of Appeal considered whether the burden of proof of fraud alleged in the counter-suit rested on the appellants. The court held that the burden of proof rests on the party who alleges that fraud was committed. In this case, the appellants had withdrawn their case against the respondent and only the respondent’s counter-claim remained. Consequently, the court upheld the appellant’s complaint and placed the burden to prove that fraud was committed on the respondent.
The court then considered whether the lease of the suit property to the first appellant was fraudulent and reviewed the lower court’s order in cancellation. The court held that fraud must be specifically pleaded and strictly proved and cannot be left to be inferred from the facts. Neither party attempted to prove fraud against the other. Therefore, the courts held that the lease of the suit property to the first appellant was not fraudulent and that the trial judge should not have cancelled the first appellant’s certificate of title.
The court also considered whether the respondent’s lease agreement was breached because the first appellant denied the respondent possession of the suit land and reviewed the lower court’s order to extend the respondents lease. The court found that the respondent was in breach of contract and, therefore, had no right of possession and overturned the trial judge’s order to extend the respondent’s lease because the respondent had failed to request it in due course.
All grounds of the appeal succeeded.
In this case the plaintiff claimed for special and general damages against the defendant for fraud and conversion of the plaintiff’s petroleum products. The case deals with fraud, where the party that benefited was not a bona fide purchaser of the products in this case. The court considered whether the defendant had good title for the products sold to him by the third party. Whether the defendant had a claim against the third party and whether there were remedies available to the parties.
In dealing with the first issue the court considered whether the defendant had acquired a better title than the mysterious seller had because the mysterious seller did not have any title to the good. The court applied the general rule in the latin maxim nemo dat quod non habet which was reflected in section 22 (1) of the Sale of Goods Act. The court found that the mysterious seller had no title to pass to the defendant and thus the defendant never acquired good title to the property. Therefore, the defendant was liable to make good any loss suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the conversion of the plaintiff’s goods.
In considering the second issue, the court found that the defendant had proved the transaction it had made with the third party and was therefore indemnified against the third party.
In considering the remedies available to the parties, the court held that general damages are compensatory to fulfil the principle of restitution in integrum which aims at restoring the plaintiff as nearly as possible to the position he or she would have been had the injury not occurred.
Therefore, the court upheld the plaintiff’s claim with costs.
The court also held that for the indemnity suit against the third party, the third party was to settle all liabilities ordered against the defendant less the amount against the defendant.
In this case, the court made a determination on an application to set aside a consent judgment that made provision for share transfer, land transfer and a special resolution.
The court determined whether the fourth defendant had the authority to enter into the consent judgment. The court applied the indoor management rule to make a finding that the fourth defendant had such authority and that parties outside did not have to enquire about the fourth respondent’s authority.
The applicants raised an objection that the consent judgment contained unpleaded issues in the prior suit by including legal entities or companies which were not parties to the suit. This objection failed since the parties had elected to be bound by what they agreed.
On the issue of whether the fourth respondent had colluded with the other respondents to defraud the applicant, the court held that it lacked merit since the fourth respondent was duly authorised by the applicants to represent them. The applicants claimed that there was no special meeting to sanction the change of name and offering the first applicant interest in land but on the evidence tendered, the court was satisfied that the meeting took place.
The court dismissed the application to set aside the consent judgment thereby denying the consequential order sought to set aside transactions validated by the consent judgment. Accordingly, the application was dismissed with costs.
The applicant brought a complaint against the defendants for contravening the market allocation prohibition of the Competition Act (the act) by entering into an ongoing agreement allocating market territory for the sale of locking products in both the Free State and Northern Cape. They sought to have the defendant’s conduct declared in contravention and consequently interdicted and charged with a 10% turnover administrative charge in respect of the contravention.
The first issue was whether the commission could allege market allocation for all products. Looking at the legislative powers of the commission, the Competition Tribunal reasoned that since the agreement’s subject matter covered all products the commission had authority therein.
The tribunal then considered whether the agreement was still ongoing after the coming into effect of the act and s 4(1)(b)(ii). It assessed the evidence and established that the defendants had not competed with each other since the entry into agreement until the time in issue and thus the agreement remained ongoing.
The final issue was whether the agreement’s rationale was in contravention of the section above. By looking at the ratio in American Soda Ash Corporation and Another vs. Competition Commission and Others  1 CPLR 1 (SCA) and The Competition-Commission and Pioneer Foods (Pty) Ltd, Case No: 15/CR/Feb07, the tribunal highlighted that s 4(1)(b)(ii)’s market allocation prohibition is a per se prohibition and thus there can be no justification for the conduct.
The agreement was held to be ongoing and in contravention of s 4(1)(b)(ii).
This case developed common law to hold an employer liable where one of its employees is sexually harassed by a senior employee.
The court considered the employer’s liability in tort for sexual harassment of its junior employee by a senior employee. The court held that the first and second respondent were jointly and severally liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of sexual assault perpetrated against her.
The court applied the rule that an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employee when an unlawful act is connected to the conduct authorised by the employer. The court held that the first respondent placed the second respondent in a senior position of trust and thus had the responsibility of ensuring that the second respondent was capable of that trust. This trust created the causal link between the second respondent and the wrongful act and that the employment relationship facilitated the sexual harassment.
The court also found the first respondent liable for imposing a two-week suspension as opposed to dismissing the second respondent for sexual harassment of a younger subordinate.
Accordingly, the court granted the application for damages in the sum of R4 million jointly and severally from the first and second defendant.
The issue was whether the eviction of the plaintiff from her house was a result of any wrongful and/or fraudulent order by the defendant.
The plaintiff's suit was founded on the tort of misfeasance in public office. The tort of misfeasance in public office had two forms, namely (i) cases where a public power was exercised for an improper purpose with the specific intention of injuring a person or persons, and (ii) cases where a public officer acted in the knowledge that he had no power to do the act complained of and that it would probably injure the claimant
The court held that the plaintiff had to prove that the first defendant exercised his power in execution of the decree in the matter for an improper purpose with the specific intention of causing injury to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff however, as held by the court, failed to discharge her burden of proof required of her that the first defendant made any wrongful or fraudulent order resulting into evection of the plaintiff from her house in execution of a decree in case. Simply stated, the evidence led by the plaintiff was too insufficient to discharge a burden of proof on the tort of misfeasance in public office.
In the result, the plaintiff's evidence alleging fraudulent acts fell short of the standard required and the suit was dismissed.
The appellant claimed from the respondents jointly and severally for general damages for physical injuries he sustained after being involved in the accident caused by the motor vehicle owned by the first respondent and insured by the second respondent.
The issue was whether the magistrate erred in law and fact by considering false evidence tendered by the witness of the respondents.
The court held that the appellant did not state if it was all evidence tendered in court which was false or which part of it is false and was considered by the trial court’s magistrate and used in making the decision of the trial court.
The court noted that it had the duty as an appellate court to review the record of evidence of the trial court in order to determine whether the conclusion reached upon the evidence received by the trial court should stand. Though the court was in agreement with the appellant that motor vehicle insurance companies were statutorily duty bound to pay compensation to the victims of the accident caused by the motor vehicles of their clients but the compensation to be paid must be proved to the standard required by the law.
The court found that there was also no evidence tendered to the trial court to establish the appellant sustained permanent incapacity but he sustained temporary disability as indicated in the said exhibit.
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.