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 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.
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 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 matter involved an application to extend the time period of filing an appeal against an alleged illegal decision of the High Court.
The court began by reiterating that the decision to grant an application for extension is a discretionary power. This discretionary power, however, is judicial in nature and must be confined to the rules of reason and justice. It is also required all relevant factors are considered.
Applying the above to assess the applicant’s reason that the delay stemmed from ignorance of procedure, the court regarded the reasons as insufficient. This was predicated on the case law position that ignorance of law was not a good cause for an extension.
The court also considered the question of the legality of the impugned decision as a possible reason for an extension. It relied on the decision of Lyamuya Construction Company Ltd v Board of Registered Trustees of Young Women's Christian Association of Tanzania Civil Application No. 2 of 2010 which stated that a point of law must be of sufficient importance and apparent on the face of the record to compel the court to allow for an extension. The court thus reasoned that the alleged illegality was not apparent on the face of the decision. Hence, it concluded that since it would require a long-drawn process to decipher the illegalities, illegality was not a sufficient cause for granting an extension.
This case concerned a dispute between the parties which had previously resulted in the matter being referred to arbitration and an award being handed down. The court considered an application to set aside that award. The respondents made a preliminary objection to this application on three grounds: (1) that the petition could not be heard as the filing fees had not been paid, (2) the application was time-barred, and (3) the failure of the applicant to adduce evidence of the arbitration award.
On the first issue, the respondent contended that as a non-government entity, the failure to pay filing fees renders the applicant’s petition liable to be struck out. However, the court considered the rule that a government party is exempt from making payment of filing fees. In determining who is a ‘government’ party, the court considered that this status extends to local government. Accordingly the applicant is exempt from paying filing fees.
On the issue of the application being time-barred, the court considered the argument that the time within which to institute action started running from the date of publication of the award. The court found that the time for challenging an award starts to run from the day the said award is filed in court for the purpose of registration and adoption. Furthermore, the period of limitation for filing an award without intervention is 6 months, but the time for challenging the same should be brought within 60 days from the date it is filed in court for registration and adoption.
On the third issue (the adduction of the arbitral award), the court considered that it was not properly a preliminary objection per the test articulated in Mukisa Biscuit Manufacturing Ltd v Westend Distributions  EA 696. The question of whether additional evidence ought to have been adduced is not amenable to treatment as a preliminary point of law.
Accordingly, all three preliminary objections were overruled.
After the failure of mediation between the parties to a dispute, the matter proceeded to litigation. At a certain point, witness statements were to be filed to be filed. The applicant was meant to submit four witness statements but only filed one of them. The applicant thereafter requested an extension of time, citing difficulty obtaining the relevant name from the Ministry of Lands. The court held that the court has the discretion to grant or deny an extension of time, but that the applicant must have a sufficient reason for requesting the extension. The court granted the application because it was clear that the witness statements could not be obtained and filed with the permitted timeframe due to the delay in receiving the names.
The applicants applied for an extension of time to give a notice of intention to appeal a judgment handed down in 2012. The applicants had previously applied for an extension in 2015, but this was struck out, giving rise to the following application.
The applicants contended that the previous application was not heard on merit, and as a result the court had jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The court found that the plain language of s 11 of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act confers a discretion on the court to grant an extension of time. The discretion must be judiciously exercised after taking into account the circumstances of the case, whether the applicant acted prudently and without delay. On perusing the court record, the court found that the applicants filed a notice of appeal within 30 days of the 2012 decision, but the appeal was struck out in December 2014. The time for filing another proper notice had expired. The court found that the applicants were concerned with their appeal in 2012 until it was struck out in 2014. The fact that the requisite time within which to issue a notice of appeal had expired while they were pursuing their appeal was reasonable and sufficient cause to grant an extension of time for giving notice of an appeal.
The application for extension of time was granted, and notice was to be filed within 14 days of the date of the ruling.