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.
Read also JIFA's Environmental Country Reports for SADC
This case considered an application for an exception to the plaintiffs’ particulars of claim. The plaintiff’s claim was based on the alleged degradation of the environment caused by mining activities conducted over a number of years.
The court considered whether the provisions of s28 of the National Environmental Management Principles (NEMA) were retrospective.
The court applied the common law rebuttable presumption against retrospectivity. In the circumstances, the court considered the nature of the duty; enforcement of the duty; what the legislature intended; when the transactions were completed and other alleged indications of retrospectivity. The court found that the presumption against retrospectivity was not disturbed, and was not applicable in this instance because the legislature could not have intended such.
The court considered whether there was proper or substantial compliance with s 28(12) of NEMA. As with the first claim, the court applied the principle of retrospectivity. Accordingly, the court held that the exception to the first alternative claim that it lacks averments necessary to sustain a cause of action must also be upheld because it avers retrospectivity.
In terms of the second alternative claim, the court held that the exception should be dismissed.
Regarding the third and fourth alternative claims, which were based on regulations that no longer had the force of law, the court found them to lack averments necessary to sustain a cause of action. Accordingly, the court upheld the third and fourth exceptions which related to these claims.
The appellant sought leave to appeal the respondent’s refusal to allow access to information concerning the use of a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) for generating electricity.
The court determined the limitations of the right to information in s 32 of the constitution and the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000; and whether the respondent was right in relying on the limitations to deny the applicants access to the information.
The court held that the right to information is not absolute since it is limited by the right to privacy as per s 36 of the constitution. The court determined whether the information required by the appellant fell within the exceptions in the act.
The court also noted that this was a technical matter that required expert evidence since experts are better qualified to draw inferences in such matters than the judicial officer. The court observed that only the respondent brought expert evidence.
The court applied s 42(3)(a) of the Information Act that entitles the respondent to refuse a request for access to a record that contains trade secrets. It found that the respondent had proved its case and that the research requested by the appellant was protected from disclosure.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed with costs.
The matter dealt with an application for access to information relating to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). The court considered the applicability of the provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA).
The court applied the test in our law that no statute is to be construed as having retrospective operation unless the legislature clearly intended it to have that effect. In the circumstances, if one were to apply PAIA’s provisions retrospectively they would interfere with the applicant’s then existing rights. The court found that the disclosure of information, or the granting of access to information should be necessary for the proper application of the provisions of the GMO act.
The court considered the applicant’s failure to exhaust internal remedies as required by s19 of the GMO act. The court found that the act does not expressly state that recourse to the courts is to be deferred until the internal appeal procedure provided for in s19 thereof is exhausted. The court found that it is illogical to insist that the applicant should have exhausted the internal appeal remedy first. The court found that this was not necessarily destructive of the relief sought by the applicant.
On the issue of whether the applicant failed to articulate the information sought, the court considered how requesters for information would not always have knowledge of the precise description of the record in which the information sought, is contained. The court found that the applicant has a clear right to some of the information to which access was requested and that the respondent was entitled to refuse access to certain records, or parts thereof, in terms of the grounds for refusal.
The applicant brought this matter to the Constitutional court as a court of first instance having cited the respondents for their failure to implement legislation aimed at containing pollution and to prosecute state a company alleged to have caused pollution.
The court first had to decide whether it was necessary for the Constitutional Court to be the court of first instance in this matter.
The court stressed that direct access should be granted only in exceptional circumstances. The court stated that justification for direct access was set out in rule 18(2) of the Uniform Rules of the court on the following grounds: if it is in the interests of justice to do so; where the nature of relief sought and the grounds relied upon justify it; whether the matter can be dealt with by the Court without the hearing of oral evidence; and, if it cannot, how evidence should be adduced and conflicts of fact resolved. The court held that these grounds were not satisfied. Therefore the court could not adjudicate further on the allegations against the respondents and dismissed the application. However, in the alternative the court ordered that the Registrar bring the judgment to the attention of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, with a request that it consider whether one of its members may provide assistance to the applicant as the issues were not set out clearly but were of importance and deserved the attention of the court.