The Environmental Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from 10 African countries on topics relating to environmental law, both substantive and procedural. The collection focuses on cases where an environmental interest interacts with governmental or private interests.
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-area expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
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The court considered an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal, staying the proceedings of the High Court.
The origin of the appeal was an application for a mandatory injunction, against the respondent, for disturbing the “natural calm flow” of the Volta River, into the sea, while executing their contractual obligations (marine reclamation). The Respondent appealed 3 interlocutory applications in the High Court, which appeals were still pending.
The stay was granted to the respondents following an application for judgment to be entered against them.
The appellant raised six grounds of appeal, however the court held that the determination of one main issue would dispose of the appeal. Thus, the court had to determine whether the Court of Appeal erred in granting the stay of proceedings.
The court noted that all the interlocutory orders were on appeal before the Court of Appeal. The court found that the court of appeal was right to halt the proceedings, since the determination of the interlocutory orders could have a serious effect on the case before the High Court.
It was further noted that an order staying proceedings is interlocutory, and discretionary and should not be interfered with unless it might result in serious injustice. The court found that the appellant failed to demonstrate that the discretion exercised would result to injustice.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
The court considered an urgent application for an order interdicting the first respondent from carrying on mining operations on the applicants’ mineral claims. At some point, the applicants and the first respondent had business dealings involving minerals from those claims. The respondent then went on to register mining claims over a piece of land which included the first applicant’s mining claims. The respondent argued that the matter was not urgent, and that the relief sought was not competent as it was final in effect.
The court considered whether the applicants had established a right to the relief sought. The court observed that the relief sought was an interim interdict, the requirements for which were: a clear right; irreparable harm; balance of convenience in favour of granting the relief, and no other satisfactory remedy. The court found that the respondent intended to mine on the applicants claim, and although the mining hadn’t commenced, the applicants could not wait until it acted and had established the prejudice likely to be suffered.
In determining the balance of convenience, the court weighed the prejudice to the applicant if the interdict was not granted against the harm to the respondent if the relief was granted. In this instance, as the mining activities were not being carried on yet, there was no prejudice to the respondent. Accordingly, the court found that the requirements for the interdict were met and the application succeeded.
The court considered a criminal appeal, where the applicants had been charged for contravening s7(1)(a) or (b) of the Communal Land Act, by occupying or using communal land without lawful authority. The applicants pleaded guilty and were convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $5000 or 30 days in prison. The appellants appealed the conviction on the ground that the court committed an irregularity by failing to proceed in terms of the correct procedure.
They contended that by entering a guilty plea, the court had a duty to safeguard the fair trial rights of the accused by adopting a procedure which was most likely to suggest a defence where there was one.
The court considered whether the appellant’s conviction was lawful. It observed that with unrepresented accused persons, there was the ever-present likelihood that out of ignorance of the law, a person would admit to charges of a complex nature out of a desire to draw sympathy of the police or the courts and the onus was upon the court to choose a procedure which would have given the appellants a possible defence.
The court found that the conviction was wrong and remitted the matter back to the lower court. In addition, the court below would be required to take cognizance of s 16 of the Act which required that following a conviction, an order for eviction be granted. Accordingly, the appeal succeeded.
This was an application for an order for spoliation. The applicants claimed that they had been unlawfully dispossessed of their quiet and peaceful possession of their property by the first respondent. The first respondent contended that he was issued with a prospecting licence by the second respondent on the same land and that he entered the property on the strength of the authority from second respondent. The applicants alleged that the first respondent entered their land by cutting a fence and causing damage to their property.
The court considered whether or not there had been a spoliation and whether the applicants were entitled to relief. The court established that the first respondent unlawfully deprived the first applicant of its possession of the quarry stone site and that this was an unlawful invasion of the property as the land was private property.
The court noted that the first respondent had not raised any of the recognised defences in an action for spoliation. The court found that the first respondent intended to take over the quarry site by forcibly removing them applicants from the quarry site without following due process as he did not possess a court order to justify his intended action.
Accordingly, the court held that the requirements for an order for spoliation had been met and ordered the respondents to return the applicant’s status quo prior to the spoliation.
The appellant in this matter claimed that the respondent had encroached onto her land. The lower court found for the respondent and dismissed the claim. The appellant argued that the learned Magistrate erred in law and fact in ordering that the defendant acquired the land in dispute through adverse possession yet there was evidence that the appellant protested the defendant's conduct and further that the magistrate had erred in law in disregarding the laws of inheritance.
The court held that the evidence rendered by the appellant, was insufficient to counter the argument on adverse possession. The defendant and his father had used this land for over 35 years without any disturbance legally for growing trees. The court held that if a person occupied land without the sanction of the owner for 12 years, he was deemed to have acquired it through adverse possession. The court went on to hold that the claim had nothing to do with distribution of intestate property. The pleadings merely spoke of the respondent’s encroachment into her land and nothing to do with intestate succession. That being the case, the lower court would have erred if it had decided the case on the basis of the act when inheritance was not an issue before the lower court.
Accordingly, the case was dismissed.
This was a claim for negligence and damages caused to the plaintiffs’ houses by road construction works that were carried out by the first defendant with the authority of the second defendant. The second defendant argued that the action was statute barred and that it could not be held liable for the first defendant’s negligence since they were independent contractors.
The court noted that the plaintiffs accepted that the action against the second defendant was statute barred but argued that the second defendant waived its right to a remedy under the act. The court held that the joinder of the second defendant to the proceedings was improper. It was further held that the waiver which was not pleaded lacked merit.
Secondly, the court determined whether the first defendant was negligent. The court noted that an action of negligence required the plaintiffs to prove that there was a duty of care owed to them, a breach of the duty and damages suffered thereof. The court held that the first defendant owed the plaintiffs a duty of care not to subject their houses to a risk of damage. However, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove a breach of the duty, since there was no evidence that the construction was done without risk assessment and the plaintiffs had been compensated for the damages.
The issue of the second defendant’s liability was found to be redundant, since the action was already dismissed on the basis of the first and second issues.
The matter dealt with an application for an order for the continuation of an interlocutory injunction arising from a dispute regarding encroachment onto the claimant’s land by the defendant.
The court considered whether it should grant an order for the continuation of the interlocutory injunction or discharge the interlocutory injunction.
An interlocutory injunction is a temporary and exceptional remedy which is available before the rights of the parties have been finally determined. In any application for an interlocutory injunction, the court first needs to determine whether there is a serious issue to be tried. If not, the application fails in limine. In this case, it was clear from reading the sworn statements that the facts herein were in dispute and raised pertinent questions to be determined by the court at a full trial.
The court then considered whether damages would constitute an adequate remedy. It held that damages would have been an inadequate remedy in this application.
It was the court’s view that the balance of convenience tilted in favour of allowing the continuation of the interlocutory injunction.
Accordingly, continuation of interlocutory injunction granted.
The matter dealt with an application for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendant from entering, cultivating and burning bricks on the claimant's farm lands pending the hearing and determination of this matter or until a further order of the court.
The court considered whether it should grant an order of interlocutory injunction or dismiss the application. An interlocutory injunction is a temporary and exceptional remedy which is available before the rights of the parties have been finally determined.
When considering an application for injunctions, the following principles apply:
1) as long as there is a serious question to be tried, a prima facie case does not have to be shown;
2) whether the plaintiff would be adequately compensated by damages for the loss if they succeed;
3) whether the defendant would be adequately compensated if the plaintiff fails;
4) consider all matters relevant to the balance of convenience;
5) consider the relative strength of each party’s case.
In this case, according to the claimants' own evidence, each of them received a court order to the effect that the judgement of the First Grade Magistrate Court sitting at Mulanje extended to the claimants. Therefore, the court order had to continue to apply until, if at all, a contrary decision was made in the substantive action.
Application for interlocutory injunction dismissed.
This was an action for damages for nuisance and trespass against the defendant. The plaintiff claimed that he was the owner of a property on which the defendant erected a 55m antenna in a brick enclosure along with an unsilenced diesel generator which produced noise. He further claimed that the defendant erected a girder with red flashing lights and positioned two 24-hour security guards at the enclosure. The defendant contended that the property was part of a forest reserve for which it had obtained a licence from the Department of Forestry.
The court considered whether or not the defendant was liable in trespass and nuisance and whether or not the plaintiff was entitled to the damages claimed.
The court found that the plaintiff held a 99-year lease over his property and that the licence granted to the defendant by the Department of Forestry did not specify the exact site for the location of the antenna. It was therefore held that the licence did not justify the trespass. The court concluded that the defendant was liable for trespass on the plaintiff’s land.
In determining the issue on nuisance, the court noted that the plaintiff did not plead the particulars of the alleged nuisance by the defendant and that he did not adduce evidence to prove the allegation of the nuisance. As such, the claim for nuisance was dismissed.
Accordingly, the court awarded the plaintiff damages for trespass.
This was an appeal against a decision of a magistrate to dismiss the appellant’s claim over a piece of customary land which he claimed was unlawfully in the possession of the second respondent, his son. The appellant had left the village for a long time and upon returning found that the first respondent had constructed a home on his land. The appellant instructed the first respondent to vacate land but he refused and proceeded to sell the land to the second respondent. The appellant told the court below that he inherited the piece of land from his father. The lower court found that the appellant had failed to adduce enough evidence to show that the land belonged to him.
The court had to determine the following: which party had the right of occupation of the land; whether the land was lawfully transferred to the second respondent and whether a permanent injunction could be granted restraining the appellant or the respondents from interfering with the land in question.
The court held that although the land had been given to the first respondent customarily, chiefs must be guided by the law specifically, the Constitution and it was against the law to deprive any person the right to use and occupy customary land without any justification at law. It held that indefinite individual usage and occupation of customary land was therefore permissible under the laws of Malawi and the subsequent transfer was legal. Accordingly, the court upheld the lower court ruling.