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.
This was a dispute about interpretation of an employment contract. An employee of a church was entitled by virtue of that contract to long service leave, calculated with reference to his ‘basic salary’. The issue was to determine the meaning and scope of the words ‘basic salary’.
The Supreme Court of Justice held that while the lower courts correctly identified this issue, they had incorrectly found that ‘basic salary’ meant the total annual salary that the plaintiff was drawing at the time. The lower courts did not give consideration to the meaning and effect of the term ‘basic salary’ in the ‘conditions of service’ document, which defined ‘basic salary’ as a lower baseline salary amount.
The court held that in dealing with the interpretation of contracts the literal and plain meaning rule must always be applied within the context of the deed being construed and not standing by itself alone. Additionally, the court has a duty to give effect to the intentions of the parties. This being an employment contract, the proper approach of interpretation is to construe the words within the context of the whole document having in mind the scope and object of the document. Interpretations which would ‘render the meaning absurd, incongruous, unreasonable or unintelligible, or that will create hardship or inconvenience’ should be rejected.
The court held that in the context of the document as a whole, and it would be ‘unreasonable and absurd’ to conclude that the intention was to bind the defendant to a meaning of ‘basic salary’ that encompassed the plaintiff’s actual annual salary.
The appeal succeeded in part; the judgments of the High Court and Court of Appeal were set aside.
This case is centered around a dispute regarding land and the interpretation of various ambiguous documents, most importantly the will of a former owner of the disputed land.
The Supreme Court was asked to review the judgement made by the Court of Appeal and to ascertain the identity (location) of the land in dispute and to clarify its ownership. The confusion arose out of the illegibility of the part of the relevant will which describes the land. The court reviewed the evidence, not limited to the will, carefully and found that the location was clearly ‘Achim’, as the trial court had found, and not ‘Axim’. Consequently, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeal was mistaken in considering that a mistake was made by the trial court in arriving at its conclusion. The decision of the Court of Appeal was, therefore, set aside.