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 key issues in this appeal were due compliance with time set down by the rules of court, and the principle of the audi alteram partem rule (right to be heard).
The court considered whether the Court of Appeal erred in disregarding the fifth respondent’s non-compliance of time set down for filing statement of defence. The court noted that this was caused by the ambiguous order by the Court of Appeal and confusion in the registry. Therefore, this and other grounds relating to case management directions by the court of appeal were dismissed.
The court also considered whether the court of appeal’s finding that the fifth respondent’s right to be heard was breached, was erroneous. The court affirmed the decision by the court of appeal and held that it lacked jurisdiction to proceed against a party who was not served or notified of a hearing date.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and the court ordered the case be remitted to the High Court to be heard on its merits.
The court was called upon to review a decision of the Court of Appeal that held that a lawyer without a valid licence to practice cannot practice law nor prepare any court process. The court below held that any process originated by a lawyer without a licence is null. The majority decision of the court held that where a lawyer endorses a writ and court process, but he did not have a licence at the time, he cannot be said to be functioning as a lawyer and not capable of endorsing the court process. A litigant who fails to verify the legal capacity of is lawyer cannot claim miscarriage of justice because the writ endorsed by an unlicensed practitioner is without legal effect.
In this case the appellant sought a reversal of an order made by the Court of Appeal overturning the lower court’s judgement. The appellant argued that the Court of Appeal had no authority to consider the appeal, because it was improperly constituted as it was filed out of time.
The Supreme Court considered whether the Court of Appeal (a) had jurisdiction over the matter despite the delayed filing of the appeal and (b) whether the appeal had merit to succeed.
The Supreme Court held that time limitations can be extended under certain circumstances and at the discretion of the court. In this case, however, the defendant (applicant before the Court of Appeal) did not provide any reasons for his delay nor a defence to the claim that the appeal was filed late. Consequently, the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to determine the merits of the appeal. The Supreme Court set the judgement aside and restored the High Court judgement.
The appeal turned on whether the plaintiff’s action in the trial court was statute barred. The plaintiff claimed that he owned a plot of land that he later transferred to a company, which was erroneously confiscated by the government, and occupied by the fifth defendant. It was argued, however, that the plaintiff acquiesced to the unlawful occupation of the land.
The plaintiff argued that the land was never transferred to the state, and the plaintiff remained owner. This meant that the government could not transfer ownership in the land to another as it still belonged to the plaintiff, who had not acquiesced in the matter.
The court held that there was uncontroverted evidence that the plot was transferred from the company to Gold Coast Motors as early as 1991, of which the plaintiff was aware. There was nothing preventing the plaintiff challenging the presence of Gold Coast Motors or the fifth defendant. The court held that Gold Coast Motors was in adverse possession since 1991, and fifth defendants continued such when they purchased the plot. Adverse possession is open, visible and unchallenged, giving notice to an owner that someone is asserting a claim adverse to the owner’s right of ownership. Gold Coast Motors had exercised rights inconsistent with the plaintiff’s since 1991, and later sold the plot to the fifth defendant who continued the chain of adverse possession. Neither recognized the title of the plaintiff since 1991, of which the plaintiff was aware but failed to challenge.
The appeal was dismissed.
The case considered the following issues, being (1) whether the lower court was right when it struck out the appellants notice of appeal on the ground of non-payment of filing fees; (2) whether the lower court was rights when it held that the witness statement constituted evidence sufficient to grant default judgment; (3) whether the lower court awarded a double compensation in respect of the same alleged loss; and (4) whether the lower court’s findings with respect to the award for special damages is competent.
The court held that an appeal is not filed unless the appropriate filing fees are paid. However, the fact that the registry failed to collect the filing fees should not be to the detriment of a litigant. Therefore, the lower court erred in striking out the notice of appeal on the ground of non-payment of the filing fees, as the appellant was not ordered to satisfy the filing fees. On the issue of the witness statement, the court found that the evidence to support a default judgment can be oral or documentary. Thus, judgment could be entered into in default based on the statement of claim, or a witness statement. On the issue of damages, the court held that the principle of assessment of damages is to restore the plaintiff to the position in which he would have been if the breach did not occur. The court found that a party cannot be awarded both special and general damages for the same set of fact. The court confirmed that the damages awarded amounted to a double compensation.
Appeal succeeds in part.
A preliminary objection by the respondent set out to expose the lack of due diligence on the part of the appellant. The respondent’s claim was that the appellant’s records were fundamentally defective and incompetent. This was because the records of the appellant were issued signed by "N. Nwanodi & Co," (which is not a legal practitioner recognized by law in Nigeria) instead of counsel’s actual name.
The counsel for appellant stated that the habit of legal practitioners' merely signing court processes in their firm's name without indicating their actual name has been allowed by this court in many cases. Thus, it was an over-adherence to technicality to annul the process improperly filed.
The respondent sought this court to employ purposive interpretation of sections 2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act (the act) that would lead to the conclusion that the record filed was indeed fundamentally defective.
This court upheld the preliminary objection of the respondent. It held that the appellant's' notice of appeal was fundamentally defective. It concluded that the purpose of sections 2(1) and 24 of the act was to ensure accountability on the part of a legal practitioner who signs court processes.
In this case, the court considered whether a writ of summons issued for more than 12 months and not served within that period can be renewed.
The court held that pursuant to order 5 rule 6 a writ has a life span of 12 months. It follows that an application for renewal must be made to the court before the expiration of the 12 months on the grounds that the defendant had not been served or for another good reason.
The court held that a writ is regarded as void where the expiration of the period of 12 months prescribed. An application for renewal of a writ can be made before the expiration of the 12 month period of issuance of a writ and after. Although order 5 rule 6 is a specific provision for renewal of a writ which is still in force, order 47 rule 3 provides for cases where the period of its effectiveness had expired and the two provisions must be read together.
In this case, the court had difficulty ascertaining reasons to jusitfy the exercise of discretion to renew the writ which had remained unserved after 12 months. The application of the appellant in the court below was found to be without merit.
The court dismissed the appeal.
In this case, the appellant protested the total absence of any service of the processes and claimed ignorance of the proceedings at the lower court. This case illustrates the essentiality of service of court process.
The court considered whether the appellant had been duly served with the notice of appeal, other processes filed by the respondent at the lower court and also the hearing notices.
The court followed the principle provided in Ihedioha v Okorocha Appeal No. SC. 660/2015 (unreported, delivered on 29 October 2015) where it was held that service is an important aspect of judicial process. It was held that failure to serve a named party with court process offends section 36(1) of the Constitution.
The court also took into account the provision of order 2 rule 6 of the Court of Appeal Rules, which stipulates that it is mandatory for the service of the notice of appeal on a respondent to be personal.
The court held that the validity of the originating processes in a proceeding before a court was fundamental because the competence of the proceeding is a condition sine qua non (an essential condition) to the legitimacy of any suit. The court held that there was a lack of certainty that the appellant was served with any process in accordance with practice and procedure of the rules of court.
The court upheld the appeal with no costs.
The matter involved an application for extension of time of appeal against a lower court decision granted against the applicant.
The main issue was whether the applicant had shown cause to justify the granting of the extension. The court noted that the length of the duration of the delay in bringing an application for extension is immaterial provided there are good reasons to justify it. In its engagement with the law, the court emphasised the role of judicial discretion in assessing the efficacy of granting the extension. It stated that for this discretion to be exercised the applicant had to show good and substantial reasons for failure to initially make the appeal. These could be a rule, lack of means, mistake or accident. The other inseparable twin leg was for the applicant to show prima facie good cause why the appeal should be heard.
In assessing whether the contemplation of an out of court settlement as reason for delay was a substantial enough reason, the court cited the Supreme Court judgment of Ikenta Best Ltd v AG Rivers State (2008) 2 SCNJ 152 to establish that the reason would not meet muster. The court thus concluded that the application did not meet the first condition for granting an extension and therefore dismissed the application for lacking merit.
The matter involves an application for an extension of the period of appeal by applicant against a lower court decision.
The main issue was whether the applicant, after consideration of the interests of justice and fair hearing, is entitled to an extension of the period of appeal. Starting from the point that the execution of a judgment does not foreclose the aggrieved party’s right of appeal, the court stated that the applicant must show good and substantial reasons for the delay in appeal, which can be rooted in a rule, lack of means, mistake or accident and, prima facie good cause why the application should be heard. Whilst the first leg requires a satisfactory justification, the second leg only requires one to show that the grounds of appeal are arguable. It is upon satisfaction of both the above that the court will use its discretion to grant the application.
As the applicant’s sole reason was that the delay stemmed from a desire to explore an out of court settlement option, the court followed the Supreme Court decision in Ikenta Best (Nig.) Ltd v AG Rivers State (2008) 2 SCNJ 152 to arrive at the position that the applicant’s reason could not be regarded as a good and substantial reason for delay in filing an appeal. The court thus held the applicant had failed to justify why the extension should be granted and therefore dismissed the application.
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 appellant claimed that a letter in dispute was not a contract but a proposal which outlined the services the respondent intended to render and the billing details. The court considered whether the statement of claim by the respondent disclosed a reasonable cause of action based on a binding contract. The other issue was whether the costs granted in the lower court were justifiable.
The court held that there must be a cause of action cognizable in law. In that light, an action founded on a contract must disclose the cause of action and court must restrict itself to the averments in the statement of claim. The court also held that costs follow the events and are compensatory in the court's discretion.
The court did not determine the existence of the contract because a valid and enforceable contract is a substantive issue that should be determined at trial. The court also found that since the requisite factual elements were present in the statement of claim, a cause of action existed despite weaknesses and unlikelihood of success of the case. The court also found that the trial court awarded the costs reasonably and by the law.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal.
The court dealt with an application for an extension of time to appeal. The court reiterated the test that must be satisfied for an application for extension of time. The applicant must file an affidavit showing good and substantial reasons for the failure to appeal within time; and propose grounds of appeal that good cause why the appeal should be heard. The court held that the applicant had shown both good and substantial reasons as to why he failed to file appeal with the correct framework and proposed adequate grounds for appeal.
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 court considered whether the appellants were necessary parties in the suit, and what is the procedure to determine a reasonable cause of action.
The court held that a necessary party is one who is bound by the result of an action. Further held that cause of action is the facts which when proved entitle a plaintiff to a remedy against the defendant and the procedure thereof is showing that the statement of claim contained facts which if proved plaintiffs would succeed.
The court found that the appellants had made a premature application which supported the respondent’s contention that there is a reasonable cause of action, and that the second appellant is a necessary party to the proceedings.
The court accordingly dismissed the appeal and costs were awarded to the respondent.
The case was an application seeking to revive a consent judgment set aside by the registrar of the court.
The dispute emanated from an application by the respondent seeking an order to nullify registration of property in the name of the defendants (who are now applicants). The order was granted under an ex parte application because the respondents failed to respond to the suit. The respondents tried without success to appeal the judgment.
The respondents then filed a notice of appeal to the Appeal Court seeking to appeal against the order of the High Court dismissing the application. They also requested an interim order for stay of execution. The applicant (who is now the respondent) objected to the appeal arguing that it was late which was confirmed by the registrar. The respondents referred the matter to a single judge and pending the determination by the judge, the parties entered into a consent judgment which was endorsed by the registrar. The registrar later set aside the consent judgment which the applicants are now seeking to revive.
In deciding the case, the court held that there was no appeal before the single judge because the applicants filed the appeal late. The court ruled that the registrar has no jurisdiction to hear and dispose an appeal. It found that the registrar erred when he entered a consent judgment on a matter which was on appeal before a court. It further ruled that the consent judgment was null and void thus it cannot be revived.
The matter involved an application for the setting aside of an order for default judgment and the order of execution of the default decree. It also involved an application for unconditional leave to defend the underlying suit that gave rise to the default judgment.
Substantively, the first issue was whether the applicant had been aware of the summons to defend the suit for the amount claimed. It was established that there was a serious flaw in the service by respondents particularly in the absence of a return of service summons. There was therefore no evidence of summons or a court order being served to the applicant on the court record and the application for leave to defend outside the stipulated timeframe could not be said to be in breach of a court order. Further, it was also held that the absence of effective summons justified the setting aside of the default decree.
Secondly, there was a question of the legality of the suit brought against the appellant for default as it was argued that the basis was an illegal instrument. As there was an argument that the cheque and acknowledgement the suit was based on were forged, the court reasoned that there was no difference between the signature on the cheque and on the acknowledgment. However, as there was no forensic evidence supporting this, the court offered the applicant conditional leave to defend the underlying suit against him. The court therefore concluded under a conditional pretext of the suit’s illegality and thus allowed the application for conditional leave to defend.
The plaintiff supplier sued the defendant – its Local Technical Representative (LTR) in accordance with the National Drug Authority Act for the distribution of pharmaceutical products – for breach of contract. The defendant failed to pay the plaintiff for the assorted products it supplied. The plaintiff consequently claimed for loss of income, damages, interest and costs of suit. The defendant lodged a counter-claim alleging that the plaintiff/first counter-defendant had breached the memorandum of understanding concluded between the parties and had, through various means, attempted to cripple the defendant’s/counter-claimant’s enterprise. It alleged further, as the basis of its challenge to the legality of the arrangement between the first and second counter-defendants, that the just-mentioned parties had colluded in this endeavour so as allow the latter to become the new LTR.
The defendants/counter-claimants successfully raised the procedural bar of res judicata – which prohibits judicially-decided matters from being heard afresh a second time – concerning the plaintiff’s claim, given that the matter of their indebtedness thereto had been resolved in the settlement of antecedent winding-up proceedings. To what extent ought the defendant’s/counter-claimant’s challenge have been raised as part of the previous lawsuit? Suggesting that res judicata was applicable to both parties’ claims, the court nevertheless considered the counter-claimant’s’ case in respect of the first and second counter-defendants and found no measure of illegality or bad faith on the evidence. The counter-claimant was additionally time-barred from seeking review of the National Drug Authority’s decision over the LTR change.
The plaintiff’s suit and defendants’ counter-claims were accordingly dismissed with costs.
The application was based on the fact that the applicant had been prevented by sufficient cause from filing a defence in a civil suit which according to the court had a meritorious defence that had a high chance of success.
The main issue was whether the default judgment issued by the lower court pursuant to failure to file a written statement of defence should be set aside.
The court reiterated that the burden is on the process server to indicate whether a principal officer or director or secretary of the corporation has been served or to indicate whether he or she was unable to establish who was being served. The serving officer, in this case, was simply quiet about who was served notwithstanding that there is a stamp of the applicant on the signature of the person served. Moreover, the provisions as to service support are a fundamental rule of justice which is that of fair trial. Fair trial includes due notice of the summons on the defendant or persons sought to be summoned to appear in court.
The court held that due to the fundamental requirements of service of process on the secretary, director or other principal officer of the company, the default decree and judgment was set aside. The court held that civil procedure rules makes it necessary to identify the person served in the corporation sufficiently to fulfill the requirements for service on a corporation.
The court considered an appeal from a High Court decision that dismissed an application to set aside part of a previous judgment. The broad circumstances related to a series of judgments that related to who was entitled to vacant possession of land. However, the time within which to lodge the appeal had lapsed. The court restated the position on what the court must consider when dealing with an application for the extension of time. Such an enquiry is three-pronged involving three questions namely: (1) establishing sufficient reasons for the court to extend the time to lodge the appeal; (2) whether the applicant is guilty or not of dilatory conduct; and (3) whether any injustice will result from the application not being granted.
The court held that because the matter in this case raised serious questions of law that need to be addressed, it would be in the interests of justice to extend the time to file their appeal.
The court also dealt with affidavits as evidence and provided that just because they were not duly endorsed, does not mean the court will reject them. Further, where it is alleged that part of an affidavit is false, a court can sever that part and rely on remaining paragraphs.
The applicant and respondent contested in a parliamentary election, the
respondent was aggrieved by the outcome of the election petitioned court
which dismissed the petition hence the appeal from which the application
arises. The applicant sought the notice of appeal struck out of court for being
filed out of time without leave of court.
In this case the appellant sought an order of Supreme Court extending the time within which to serve a notice of appeal. Counsel for the applicant lodged a notice of appeal well within the time prescribed by the law but the respondent’s counsel was served three days out of time. The applicant apportioned the blame for this delay on the staff of the Court of Appeal which, according to the applicant, failed to make available a signed notice of appeal on time.
The court considered the application for extension of the prescribed time in light of Rule 5 of the Rules of the Supreme Court. According to this rule, the court may grant such an extension if it finds sufficient reason to do so. The court found that the fact that the applicant promptly filed the notice of appeal demonstrated zeal on the applicant’s part. However, counsel for the applicant failed to demonstrate that the court staff caused the delay and did not explain why it took nearly four months to file the application for extension before the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the court found that refusing the application would amount to denying the applicant’s right to present and prosecute his appeal and would have disproportionately negative consequences on the applicant. The court, therefore, used its discretionary powers to grant the extension sought, thereby validating the notice of appeal and the appeal itself.
In 2009, the appellants brought an action
before the High Court on behalf of former
employees of National Sugar Works Ltd,
alleging unlawful termination of their services.
The respondents raised a preliminary objection
claiming that the suit was time barred. This
claim was dismissed by the High Court but
accepted in second instance by the Court of
Appeal. Being dissatisfied with the decision of
the Court of Appeal, the appellants filed a
further appeal before the Supreme Court. The
appellants argued that their suit against the
respondents was not time barred because they
were under disability due to war and rebel
The issue before the court was an application for extension of time to file an appeal.
The applicant was seeking condonation from the court after he failed to file an appeal within the time prescribed by court rules. He based his appeal on the grounds that he was not aware of the judgment and blamed his lawyer for not informing him of the judgment. He argued that it was just and equitable for the court to extend the time to file the appeal and that there was likelihood of success.
The respondent on the other hand opposed the application arguing that the applicant failed to produce evidence to support its application.
In deciding the case, the court held that court rules empower the court to extend time limits if there are sufficient reasons. It ruled that negligence on the part of the applicant’s counsel amounts to sufficient reason for extension of time limits. The court found that refusal to extend the time limits will cause injustice to the applicant.
The application for extension of time was granted.
The appellant sought a declaration that it was the lawful owner of a piece of land in dispute, and that the respondent has been a trespasser. The respondent filed seeking to strike out the appellant’s suit for being time-barred. The trial judge allowed the application. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against the dismissal. The Court of Appeal found no merit in the appeal and dismissed the same, hence this appeal.
The issue for determination for the appeal was whether the appellant could appeal to the Court of Appeal against the order of the trial court without the leave of court.
The court applied the principle that if the decision conclusively determines the rights of the parties, then it would be a decree; otherwise it would be an order. If for instance portions of a plaint are struck out as being frivolous, or if a suit is stayed, such a decision would be an order, whereas if a suit is dismissed with costs, that would be a decree. A decree is appealable as of right, whereas under the Civil Procedure Rules most orders are only appealable with leave of the court.
In applying the principle, the court found that the High Court decision disposed of the suit conclusively and the decision was therefore a decree within the meaning of s 2(c) of the Civil Procedure Act, even though it was worded as an order. It held that the appellant therefore had a right of appeal as against the decision and did not need to apply for leave to appeal to the court of appeal.
The appeal succeeded.
The appellant applied to the supreme court seeking an enlargement time within which he should have filed his notice of appeal against the decision of the court of appeal.
The issues were whether leave to appeal could be granted to the applicant and serve the notice of appeal out of time and whether the applicant had ‘sufficient cause’ for not having been able to bring the appeal within time.
The court noted that it had the discretion to extend and validate pleadings even where there were limits created by statute. The court held that ‘sufficient reason’ must relate to the ability or failure to take particular step in time. It observed that the rule envisaged scenarios in which extension of time for doing an act so authorised or required would be granted namely: before the expiration of a limited time, after the expiration of a limited time, before an act is done and after an act is done.
The court also noted that the appellant was not to be prejudiced since the machinery which formed the core subject of the dispute between the two parties was still in possession. In the result, the court was satisfied that the appellant had established sufficient reasons for having failed to apply on time.
The appeal succeeded.