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 appeal is in relation to whether an order of non-suit was the appropriate order. The appeal originated from an institution of an action against the respondents. The action was centred around an order for damages, due to an unlawful dismissal from employment. The respondent disputed these claims as they contended that the contract was lawfully terminated.
The courts below granted judgment in favour of the appellant. However, in the Court of Appeal a piece of evidence belonging to the appellant was expunged on the ground that those pleadings did not constitute evidence. An order of non-suit was made by the Court of Appeal. It is that order of non-suit that gave rise to this appeal at the Supreme Court.
The appellant submitted that there was a breach of the fundamental right to fair hearing as the non-suit was instituted before hearing. Furthermore, he claimed to have satisfactorily proved his case for damages on the now expunged evidence and that this was therefore not a case in which an order of non-suit ought to have been made.
This court resolved this issue in the appellant's favour and the judgment of the Court of Appeal was set aside. Accordingly, this appeal was remitted to the Court of Appeal to be heard by a different panel.
This case concerned the appellant's entitlement to notice of meeting prior to removal as company director. The appellant claimed relief for a declaration that his purported dismissal was a repudiatory breach of his contract of employment and that he was denied the right to a notice meeting pursuant to sections 236, 262 and 266 of Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
The counsel for the respondent contended that against the background of the appellant's contention the trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain the complaint. Given the above claim of the appellant, he should have approached the Federal High Court for the resolution of his complaint of the breaches and not the trial court.
This court held that the dismissal of the appellant was not lawful because of lack of due process. However, the trial court below lacked jurisdiction and since the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to enter the matter, the lower court, equally, lacked the jurisdiction to deal with the appeal before it. Thus, the appeal was found to be unmeritorious and was struck out for want of jurisdiction.
The issue was whether the trial judge’s decision was affected by the lapse of time (19 months) between the adoption of written addresses and the delivery of judgment. The dispute emanated from the dismissal of the respondent as the principal assistant registrar of the appellant college. The respondent successfully challenged the dismissal and the lower court awarded him damages amounting to approximately 1.6 million Naira together with reinstatement.
The appellant challenged the lower court’s ruling on the grounds that due to the time lapse between the hearing of evidence and delivery of judgement the trial judge was not able to make proper judgement. The appellants further argued that the s 294(1) Constitution requires that judgement must be delivered in 3 months.
The court pointed out that section 294(5) of the Constitution also provides that delay in the delivery of judgment does not lead to a judgment being vitiated. The delay must occasion a miscarriage of justice to result in such a conclusion.
In deciding the matter, the court held that the errors made by the trial judge shows that he was no longer in position to properly appraise the evidence. This resulted in the miscarriage of justice and the appeal was upheld.
The court considered whether the respondent’s witness' statement on oath needed to be amended notwithstanding the amendment of the statement of defence. Further, whether the appellant was properly retired from the service of the second respondent.
The court held that the giving of a written statement on oath is a distinct process from the statement of defence which serves to support the statement of defence but is not part of it. Further, according to the public service rules the compulsory retirement age for all grades in the service shall be sixty years or thirty-five years of pensionable service whichever is earlier. A statement of policy cannot overrule public service rules, especially where such terms are not written in terms of the contract of employment.
The court found that when the respondents were given leave to amend their statement of defence, the amended statement of defence took effect from the date of the original statement of defence. Therefore, it was too late for the appellant to object to the effect that there was no written deposition to support the amended statement of defence. The court also found that the premature retirement was unlawful, null and void thus entitled to reinstatement.
The court accordingly upheld the appeal and awarded costs.
The appellants, employees of the first respondent, appealed a decision against the lower court that dismissed the appellants’ suit claiming wrongful termination.
The court began its consideration of the appeal by assessing the implication of collecting entitlements by the appellants whilst their case was pending, and whether this estopped them from bringing a challenge against their termination. The Supreme Court held that collection of terminal benefits in respect of wrongfully terminated employment would not be a bar to challenging the wrongful termination. If a termination is wrongful then it cannot be remedied by the subsequent act of the injured party. The appellants were therefore held not to be estopped from challenging their termination.
The court held that the main issue for determination was whether employment of the appellants was wrongfully terminated. The sole witness for the appellants stated that there were conditions of service governing their employments, but failed to tender any documentary evidence in support thereof. The onus of proof rests on the appellants to tender the terms and conditions of service; failure to do so had dire consequences for the appellants’ case as it is a vital issue. The court held that at the trial the appellants failed to discharge the onus of proving wrongful termination and how the respondents breached the terms of employment. The appeal was dismissed for lacking merit
This was an appeal against the decision of the High Court to decline jurisdiction to determine an issue of wrongful termination and compensation thereof.
The court interpreted the provisions of the Labour Act to differentiate the jurisdiction of the Commission from that of the High Court. The court applied the provisions of art 140 of the Constitution to the effect that the High Court has jurisdiction to enforce every right created by statute unless it is ousted in the Constitution. It was held that the previous court had the power to make the relevant award on the strength of the applicable law, terms of employment and evidence adduced before it. The fact that its jurisdiction is excluded in respect of other reliefs does not entitle the court to decline jurisdiction altogether. The court may hear the whole case but decline to grant the reliefs it is not competent to grant when it delivers its final judgment in the matter. Accordingly, the application was granted, the order of the High Court was set aside and an order was made for the High Court to assume its jurisdiction and determine the matter.
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 considered whether employees who were claiming compensation for loss of employment were ‘permanent employees’ in terms of an employment contract. The case additionally concerns whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence.
The plaintiffs contended that they were employed by the respondent as permanent employees in terms of an employment contract. The respondent subsequently went into liquidation and the plaintiffs claimed for loss of compensation.
The court held that for a plaintiff to be entitled to benefits as an ex-employee, they should spell out clearly the terms of their employment as contained in their contract of employment and then prove their entitlements under those terms. The plaintiffs assume the burden of persuasion and producing evidence, however, it was clear that they were unable to produce a written agreement which spells out their terms of employment. The court found that any contract of employment for more than six months which was not in writing was unenforceable.
The plaintiffs had been employed for 10 and 12 years respectively, but failed to obtain letters of appointment. It became apparent that they were only employed for the duration that they were engaged on a particular voyage.
The court found that to be a permanent employee one would need to prove employment through the use of a contract of employment, which was in writing and could be used as evidence to illustrate the terms thereof. In this case, the plaintiffs were only employees when the respondents required their services. Furthermore, the court held that the Court of Appeal had not misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence as the plaintiff failed to properly prove their claim.
This court considered whether the court below erred in stating that the plaintiffs’ action was statute barred, that they erred in their interpretation of s 24 of the Social Security Decree 1972 and finding that the abrogation (doing away with) of the scheme was illegal, and that their order for specific performance should be upheld.
The plaintiffs were former employees of the defendant. The defendant established a pension scheme in 1976 and abrogated it in 1990. In the premise, the plaintiffs alleged that they were entitled to the payments from the pension.
The court found that in determining the interpretation of s 24 of the Social Security Decree, the court needed to ascertain whether the defendant had abrogated the scheme lawfully. It found that the plaintiffs were adequately informed of the termination of the scheme and that the defendant had lawfully wound up the scheme.
In considering whether the action was statute barred, and if the plaintiffs were entitled to specific performance, the court found that the plaintiffs’ action was instituted 16 years after the scheme was terminated. In the premise, and owing to the fact that the scheme was lawfully terminated, the plaintiffs were not legally competent to accrue a right under the scheme, thus, they were not entitled to claim specific performance.
Therefore, the plaintiffs could neither maintain an action and attempt to enjoy the benefits of the scheme, nor could they compel the defendant to compensate them under an abrogated scheme.
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 was a second appeal by the appellant
against the decision of the Court of Appeal
which ruled that terminal benefits paid to the
respondents were not taxable under Section 19
of the Income Tax Act. The background is that
the respondents were retrenched and awarded
terminal benefits for which they sought from
the appellant the tax due. The appellant
reviewed and presented a sum that was
contested by the respondents and the high court
ruled that the amount given to the former
employees was akin to gratuity which was tax
exempt. The court of appeal agreed with the
trial court hence this appeal.
The matter involved a claim by the applicant against the defendant’s conduct of unlawfully blocking and deducting monies from his salary account.
First, was whether the court, as a commercial division, had jurisdiction over the matter. The court reasoned that as it dealt with crediting and debiting of the applicant’s account, the matter therefore lay in the ambit of a banker customer relationship. The court was therefore had jurisdiction as it was a commercial matter.
Next, was whether the applicant’s account had been unlawfully deducted and consequently who was liable, considering that the defendant had assumed the obligations of Crane Bank, the applicant’s original employer. The court found there was evidence that the applicant’s account had been credited with less money than he was earning for some time.
On the issue of liability, the court reasoned that despite the contractual exemption of liability upon assumption of Crane’s obligations by the defendant, the Employment Act required the employment obligations to transfer to the defendant as a matter of law. The effect was that the defendant was liable for the unlawful deductions.
Finally, the court dealt with the question of damages. The court used its discretion to put the plaintiff in the position he would have been but for the wrong, as required by law. The court, using its discretion, also awarded interest to the applicant on the basis that applicant had been deprived from own monies. It however denied the claim for exemplary damages as it could not establish malice, outrage or impunity in the conduct of the defendant.
This case presented the first instance where South African labour courts were called to determine the relationship between a garden leave clause and a post termination restraint of trade clause where a contract of employment contained both.
The court considered whether the applicant had waived its right to enforce the notice period by terminating the first respondent’s employment with immediate effect and the reasonableness of the duration restraining the commercial activity of the first respondent in the garden leave clause and/or the post termination restraint clause.
The court held that the applicant was entitled to enforce the period of the garden leave and the post termination restraint of trade clause. The court adopted the rule that a garden rule provision should be taken into account when determining the reasonableness of the restraint duration. The court also took into account the seniority of the first respondent that exposed him to confidential knowledge of the applicant’s business and held that the cumulative restraint period of 12 months was reasonable.
Accordingly, the court granted the application and declared that the first respondent’s contract of employment terminated on 30 June 2016 and that he was restrained from disclosing any confidential information or engaging in any commercial activities with competitors until 31 December 2016.
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.