Decisions of the extinct Appellate Committee of the House of Lords will continue to resonate in South African administrative, constitutional and international law

Published date01 January 2013
AuthorGeorge Barrie
Date01 January 2013
Decisions of the extinct Appellate
Committee of the House of Lords will
continue to resonate in South African
administrative, constitutional and
international law*
George Barr ie**
1 Introduction
In 2003 it was ann oun ced that a Su prem e C ourt wo uld repla ce the App ellate
Co mmi ttee of the Hous e of Lor ds. T his tra nspi red in 2009 and sa w the en d of the
Ho use o f Lord s ac ting in the sp ecifi c jud icial c apaci ty as t he fi nal c ourt of ap peal
for t he U nited K ingdo m. Th e oth er judic ial com mittee of the H ouse of Lo rds, the
Jud icial Com mittee of the Priv y C oun cil, cont inue s to fun ctio n. F or a ll p ractic al
pur pos es the Supre me C ourt con tinue s to exerc ise the same juri sdic tion as it s
pre dec esso r. T here is m erely a ch ange of name a nd a c hang e o f ve nue. T he
Su prem e Cou rt is to be head ed by a Pre siden t who was nam ed a s Lord Philli ps
of W orth Matra vers .
It may be oppo rtune at this junct ure to asses s the major decis ions of the
App ellate Comm ittee o f the H ouse o f Lo rds (h ereinafte r the H ouse of L ords) a nd
their p ossible in fluence on So uth Af rican a dmin istrative law, c onstitu tional la w and
intern ational law . The se thre e branc hes of la w have been se lected due to the initial
– and continu ing – influ ence of English law upon the m. The inf luenc e of English law
on So uth Afric a has be en imme nse and is cle arly visible in the law of eviden ce, the
Dedicated to the memory of Ellison Kahn who, as I perceive, believed that the fusion of the best of
Roman- Dutch and English law could blend into a harmonious union. He further believed that, in the
long run, the test is social utility and that emotion should not cloud the debate about the purity of
Roman-Dutch law versus reliance on English authorities. He saw no point in embarking on a war of
attrition to starve our legal system of relevant Engli sh influences.
BA, LLB (UP), LLD (Unisa), Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Law, University of J ohannesburg.
See Le Seur ‘From appellate committee to supreme court: A narrative’ in Blom-Cooper, Dickson
and Drewry The judicial House of Lords 1876-2009 (2009) 65.
Schreiner The contribution of English law to South African law and the rule of law in South Africa
(1967) 24; Schm idt and Rademeyer Law of evidence (2003) para 1311; Cowen The law of
250 (20 13) 28 SAPL
law of delict, com petition law, criminal procedu re, negotiable instrum ents, commerc ial
law, c ompa ny law, the law of in suran ce, inte rpretatio n of sta tutes in a ddition to the
abo ve-me ntioned branc hes o f inter nation al, adm inistrativ e and cons titution al law.
Jud gmen ts by the Ho use of Lords ha ve ofte n influen ced So uth Afr ican courts
by th e cog ency o f their reaso ning a nd the clarity o f their lang uage . This in fluenc e
did not cea se d esp ite th e si nce re at tem pt by our app ellate divisi on t o de velo p a
So uth A frica n com mon l aw fr ee fro m the imp erial in fluen ce of E nglish law.
Exa mples of s uch attem pts are Reg al v Afr ican Supe rslate (Pty) L td; Tru st Ba nk
van Af rika Bpk v Eks teen and J orda an v Biljon wher e the appe llate divi sion
4 5
dec lined to follow princip les whic h had en tere d Sout h Afric an law thr ough En glish
law . As p ointed out b y Cam eron (n ow Mr Just ice C amer on o f the Con stitut iona l
Co urt), Steyn CJ wi shed to term inate the spec ial bo nd b etwe en E nglish law and
So uth Afr ican law. Thi s he atte mpted to do, not on ly by firing b roads ides at
En glish law, b ut by e mba rking on a war of attritio n which would e ventu ally lea d to
En glish elem ents in th e Sout h Afri can le gal sys tem be ing sta rved of their supp ort
by f orec losin g the judic ial a men abilit y and cong enia lity to them .
So uth Afric a’s c onst itutio nal law (e specia lly pri or to the 1996 Cons titution ),
adm inistra tive law (desp ite the intro duct ion of the Prom otio n of Adm inistra tive
Jus tice Act 3 of 2000 ) an d inter natio nal law (d esp ite sec tions 23 1-233 in the 19 96
Co nstitu tion) ha ve bee n fashio ned alo ng Eng lish lines . Eng lish cas es are cite d no
les s ofte n than befor e, alt houg h thei r forc e is p ersu asiv e rath er than comp elling.
Ellis on Kah n’s com ments tha t ‘our cou rts hav e bee n suc cess ful in tak ing th e
bes t from Rom an-Du tch law and t he b est f rom Eng lish l aw a nd f using the tw o in
a ha rmonio us uni on’ are mo re tha n apt. To atte mpt to d eny th e Eng lish ele ments
in ou r cons titutio nal, adm inistra tive an d inter natio nal law would be ‘a s impo ssible
as to elimin ate Ro man law from the fabr ic of Eur ope an leg al syst ems or to sort ou t
the wate rs of t he s ea in to the river s wh ence they c ame’.
negotiable instruments in South Africa (1985) 146; Joubert et al The law of South Africa vol 19
(1996) para 1; Hahlo and Kahn The Union of South Africa: The development of its laws and
Constitution (1960) 41; Van der Merwe and Olivier Die onregmatige daad in the Suid-Afrikaanse reg
(1989) 18; Van Heerden and Neethling Unlawful competiti on (1995) 53.
1963 1 SA 102 (AD) (nuisance).
1964 3 SA 402 (estoppel). Hoexter J (at 414) concurring stated that ‘I bear in mind that our courts
have pointed out over and over again that, in matters of estoppel, it is prope r and safe to look for
guidance, to decisions of the English cou rts’. His was a lone voice in the court in this regard.
1962 1 SA 286 (AD) (defamation). See too Craig v Voortrekkerpers Bpk 963 1 SA 149 (AD) and
Nydoo v Vengtas 1965 1 SA 1 (AD).
See Cameron ‘Legal chauvinism, executive mindedness and justice: LC Steyn’s impact on South
African law’ 1982 SALJ 38. See Chaskalson ‘South Africa’ in Blom-Cooper (n 1) 360-366.
Kahn (n 2) 47.
Id. See Bodenstein ‘English influences on the common law of South Africa’ (1913) 30 SALJ 304;
Wessels History of the Roman Dutch law (1908) 399; De Wet ‘Gemenereg of wetgewing’ (1948) 11

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