THE COMPULSORY ROTATION OF AUDITORS

Every public and state-owned company has to appoint an auditor and a company secretary. However, in terms of section 92 of the Companies Act, 2008, the same individual is not allowed to serve as the auditor or designated auditor of a company for more than 5 consecutive financial years.

What does this mean for my company?

  1. If an individual has served as the auditor or designated auditor of your company for 2 or more consecutive financial years, and then ceases the position, the individual may not be appointed again as the auditor or designated auditor of the company until after the expiry of at least two further financial years.
  2. If your company has appointed 2 or more persons as joint auditors, you must manage the required rotation in a way that all of the joint auditors do not relinquish office in the same year.

Despite the strict requirements for public and state-owned companies, it is not compulsory for private or personal liability companies to appoint an auditor, unless the company is required to produce audited financial statements.

Is this for the better?

It is understood that the external audit function is an activity of public protection and provides credibility to financial statements and assurance to investors. However, auditor rotation could lead to additional costs to companies, as the new auditor would be required to perform additional procedures on the opening balances of their new client.

In some areas, it could also impact negatively on the availability of auditors, as some towns only have a limited number of registered auditors. Auditors practicing as sole practitioners will also be affected, and could lose long-term clients unless they bring in another registered auditor and expand their practice.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

DO DEBTS LAST FOREVER?

Prescription was introduced as means of protecting South African consumers from dishonest credit providers, who are responsible for recklessly lending credit and have contributed to the detrimental debt crisis many South Africans face today.

What does prescription mean?

  • The Prescription Act 68 of 1969 (PA) says that a debt (payment of money) is extinguished/expired after the lapse (passing) of a specific time period.
  • South Africa has different laws which specify time periods, for example, the PA says contractual and delictual debts extinguish after 3 years from when prescription starts.
  • Prescription may be delayed or interrupted.

It is important to bear in mind that not all debt prescribes after a period of three years. Debt related to a cheque, for example, only prescribes after 6 years. The purpose of prescription in South Africa is to compel creditors and collections agents to collect money owed to them within a specified period and not delay collection so that it accumulates massive amounts of interest and costs.

What are the consequences of an extinguished debt?

  • The debtor is not liable to the creditor for a debt after the time period has lapsed.
  • The creditor may not institute legal action against the debtor for a debt.

When does prescription start?

As soon as the debt is due (a debt is due once the creditor can identify the debtor and the facts from which the debt arises).

  • If the debtor prevents the creditor from gaining knowledge of the debt (excluding debts arising from agreements) prescription runs from when the creditor has knowledge of the existence of the debt.

An important point to remember is that it’s perfectly legal for a debt collector or attorney to demand payment for a prescribed debt. It is up to a debtor to raise prescription as a defence.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

HOW TO REGISTER A TRADEMARK IN 2017

If you have a business and wish to keep competitors from using, or misusing, your brand, then you should consider registering a trade mark for your company’s name and logo.

A trade mark can only be protected and defended under the Trade Marks Act, 1993, if it is registered. However, unregistered trade marks may be defended in terms of common law. The registration procedure results in a registration certificate which has legal status, allowing the owner of the registered trade mark the exclusive right to use that mark.

 Where do I register a trade mark?

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) administers the Register of Trade Marks which is the record of all trade marks that have been formally applied for and registered in South Africa.

A trade mark is only registrable if it serves the purpose of distinguishing the goods/services of one trader from those of another trader. Other points to remember include:

 It must not have become customary in your field of trade.

  1. It does not represent protected emblems such as the national flag or a depiction of a national monument such as Table Mountain.
  2. It is not offensive or contrary to the law or good morals or deceptive by nature or way of use.
  3. There are no earlier conflicting rights.

 How to register a trade mark?

  1. Register as a customer on CIPC: Go to the CIPC website (www.cipc.co.za). If you are already registered as a customer, and know your customer code and password, then continue with the next step.
  2. Deposit funds: Deposit the application fee of R590 regarding every class and every trade mark applied for into the CIPC bank account using your customer code as reference.
  3. Conduct a search: In order to conduct a search, you can request a special search from CIPC, or you can conduct a cursory e-search yourself.

A registered trade mark can be protected forever, provided it is renewed every ten (10) years upon payment of the prescribed renewal fee.

To make the process easier and more successful, then contact your legal adviser, who can lodge a trade mark application on your behalf and ensure all your documentation is correct.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

SOCIAL MEDIA: WHAT LINE CAN’T I CROSS AS AN EMPLOYEE?

There are cases of employees posting sensitive or disrespectful information and messages about their employers online. This might seem like an innocent joke with the people on your social media feed, however, the backlash is far more serious than that. The conduct of employees on social media platforms is also more frequently exposing employers to the risk of vicarious liability and brand damage.

In considering the risks to employers (and their employees), it is necessary to keep in mind:

  1. the impact of social media on the Constitutional rights to dignity, privacy and freedom of expression;
  2. the risks that defamatory or harassing statements may result in vicarious liability for employers;
  3. the risk of work place harassment and cyber-bullying and the impact of this conduct on the work environment; and
  4. what conduct may justify disciplinary action and even dismissal.

What if an employee posts something negative about their employers?

An employer does have recourse against employees whose social media blunders cause brand damage, or result in the disclosure of confidential information or vicarious liability. The CCMA has accepted that certain conduct on social media may warrant disciplinary action. However, the ordinary principles of fairness and equity apply. When investigating such conduct, care must be taken not to unlawfully infringe rights to privacy and the provisions of the Regulation of Interception of Electronic Communications Act.

In the case of Beaurain v Martin NO & others (2014), Mr Beaurain, was employed by Groote Schuur Hospital. During his employment, he raised various complaints regarding health issues at the hospital. Each complaint was investigated and he was informed that the complaints were without merit. Getting no joy from the hospital, Mr Beaurain started posting his complaints on Facebook. Eventually, the head of Mr Beaurain’s department addressed a letter to him to inform him that he was to stop posting his claims pertaining to health risks at the hospital, on social media. Mr Beaurain did not heed this instruction. This resulted in another letter in which was given a final warning to stop the conduct.

After an angered Facebook post where he attacked the state of the hospital, he was charged with gross insubordination and dismissed. Mr Beaurain referred a dispute to the Labour Court. His dismissal was found to be fair.

Conclusion

Not all comments on social media that are critical of an employer will warrant dismissal. For example, if the post constitutes conduct in alignment with a protected strike or amounts to a protected disclosure, dismissal is not allowed. However, employees should be careful not to post information regarding their employers that could put the brand name in jeopardy or reveal confidential company information.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

CAN BREAKING-OFF AN ENGAGEMENT PROMPT LEGAL ACTION?

B4Once a couple has become engaged, you could say that they have concluded a verbal contract to get married. From that point, up until the marriage, the couple would be committed to getting married, as well as the planning and preparation leading up to it. However, in some instances, one of those in the relationship might decide to break off the engagement. This might seem unimportant, but what if the couple had gone to great lengths to plan the wedding and even went as far as changing lifestyles in the expectation of getting married. Would the person being left behind be able to sue for damages lost?

Does our law mention engagement?

Our common law has, over the years, recognised the principle that the aggrieved party has a claim for breach of promise. Traditionally this claim comprises two parts, namely:

  1. The delictual claim which the aggrieved party would have under the action injuriarum for contumelia, in other words, damages for the humiliation caused as a result of the break-up of the relationship; and
  2. The contractual claim for the actual financial loss suffered by the aggrieved party as a result of the break-up of the relationship of the parties.

In the Supreme Court of Appeal case Van Jaarsveld vs Bridges (2010), it was found that no claim in South African law exists other than actual expenses incurred in the planning and preparation of the marriage.

The judgement draws attention to a court’s right and more importantly, duty to develop the common law, taking into account the interests of justice and at the same time to promote the spirit of the Bill of Rights.

ES Cloete vs A Maritz (2013) WCH

The question whether or not the claim for breach of promise is a valid cause of action in South African law was once again considered in the Western Cape High Court. In this Court, Judge Robert Henney was the presiding Judge in the matter of ES Cloete vs A Maritz.

Miss Cloete claimed that Mr Maritz proposed formally to her in Namibia on the 9th February 1999 with an engagement ring, and she accepted. The relationship was turbulent and a decade later Maritz called off the engagement and the intended wedding. Cloete instituted action against Maritz and alleged that Maritz’s refusal to marry her amounted to a repudiation of the agreement which they had reached 10 years earlier. In his judgment, Judge R Henney said: “Clearly, to hold a party accountable on a rigid contractual footing, where such a party fails to abide by a promise to marry does not reflect the changed mores, morals or public interest of today.”

The judge also said: “As pointed out by Sinclair, The Law of Marriage Vol 1 (1996), to hold a party liable for contractual damages for breach of promise may in fact lead parties to enter into marriages they do not in good conscience want to enter into, purely due to the fear of being faced with such a claim.”

Conclusion

Divorce, which in earlier days was only available in the event of adultery or desertion, is now available in the event of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There is no reason why a just cause for ending an engagement should not likewise include the lack of desire to marry the particular person, irrespective of the ‘guilt’ of the latter.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS: WITH OR WITHOUT THE ACCRUAL SYSTEM?

B3If you don’t have an ANC, you are automatically married in community of property. This means that there is one estate between a husband and a wife. Everything is shared equally between spouses, which includes debts. However, with an antenuptial contract, the estates of each spouse remain separate. The difference comes with the addition of the accrual system.

What is an antenuptial contract?

An ANC determines whether a marriage will be out of community of property with/without the accrual system. It must be signed by the persons entering into a marriage, two witnesses and a notary public, and it must be registered in the Deeds Registries office within the prescribed time period.

What is the accrual system?

The accrual system is a formula that is used to calculate how much the spouse with the larger estate must pay the smaller estate if the marriage comes to an end through death or divorce. Only property acquired during the marriage can be considered when calculating the accrual.

  • If there is no accrual system, then the spouses have their own estates which contain property and debts acquired prior to and during the marriage – nothing is shared.
  • The underlying philosophy of the accrual system is that each spouse is entitled to take out the asset value that he or she brought into the marriage, and then they share what they have built up together.
  • The accrual system only applies if the marriage ends – either by divorce or death. You cannot claim your share of the joint estate while you’re still married.

Whether or not you decide to include the accrual system in your antenuptial contract depends on the couple. Some may see the relevance while others do not.

It’s important that both of you consult the lawyer who’s drawing up the ANC because both spouses need to be fully aware of the consequences. It’s also important to see someone who’s neutral, and who can mediate what goes into your ANC, because emotions can cloud your judgment, and it can be a stressful negotiation if one spouse has a lot of assets and the other doesn’t, for example.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS: CAN I GET ONE AFTER MARRIAGE?

B2Couples who are interested in an antenuptial contract often make the decision to get one before they are married. That is the ideal scenario. However, some couples may have already gotten married in community of property, and later decide to change to another form of marriage contract.

Can it be done?

The Matrimonial Property Act allows a husband and wife to apply jointly to court for leave to change the matrimonial property system which applies to their marriage.

  1. According to South African law, the parties who wish to become married out of community of property must enter into an antenuptial contract prior to the marriage ceremony being concluded.
  2. If they fail to do so then they are automatically married in community of property. Of course, many people are unaware of this provision and should be able to satisfy the court that it should change their matrimonial property system if it was their express intention that they intended to be married out of community of property.

What are the requirements?

In order for the parties to change their matrimonial property system, the act mentions the following requirements:

  1. There must be sound reasons for the proposed change.
  2. The Act requires that notice of the parties’ intention to change their matrimonial property regime must be given to the Registrar of Deeds, must be published in the Government Gazette and two local newspapers at least two weeks prior to the date on which the application will be heard and must be given by certified post to all the known creditors of the spouses.
  3. The court must be satisfied that no other person will be prejudiced by the proposed change. The court must be satisfied that the rights of creditors of the parties must be preserved in the proposed contract so the application must contain sufficient information about the parties’ assets and liabilities to enable the court to ascertain whether or not there are sound reasons for the proposed change and whether or not any particular person will be prejudiced by the change.

What is the downside?

The downside is that the application is expensive because you and your spouse have to apply to the High Court on notice to the Registrar of Deeds and all known creditors, to be granted leave to sign a Notarial Contract having the effect of a postnuptial contract. You must also have solid grounds for wanting to switch to an antenuptial contract. Therefore, it’s not something you can do on a whim.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

UNOPPOSED AND OPPOSED DIVORCE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

B1My spouse said that he/she won’t ‘give me a divorce’. What can I do? Your spouse can oppose the divorce, but it is the Court that grants a divorce, not your spouse. If you convince the court that the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down, the court can grant a decree of divorce even if your spouse does not want to get divorced.

There is a process, called a ‘rule 58’ application, whereby you can ask the court to give an order regarding the care of and access to the children and maintenance pending the finalisation of the divorce. You can even ask for a contribution to your legal costs.

How much does it cost?

In the case of an unopposed divorce (i.e. there is no dispute between yourself and your spouse about the divorce or what should happen), your fees are likely to be limited to the Sheriff’s fees and minor expenses for transport, photocopies, etc. Sheriff’s fees can vary widely, depending on the distance he has to travel and how many attempts he has to make at serving pleadings on the opposing party, but generally these fees would be a few hundred rand. Where a divorce is opposed, the costs become unpredictable and entirely dependant on the specifics of the case.

How long does it take?

Where a divorce is unopposed and there are no complications or children involved, it can sometimes be finalised in as little as four weeks.

Where a divorce is opposed, it can easily take two to three years, or more. In most cases, however, divorces get settled before the parties have to go to Court – even where the divorce started out as an opposed divorce. As soon as the parties in an opposed divorce reach a settlement agreement and the divorce becomes unopposed, it can again be possible to finalise the divorce in as little as four weeks.

What you need to do

Before you approach the Court to start divorce proceedings, you will should get certified copies of as many of the following documents as you can:

  1. Your identity document
  2. Your Ante-Nuptial Agreement, if any
  3. The children’s births certificates, if any and
  4. Your marriage certificate

Also make sure you have the following information handy:

  1. Your full names, surname, identity number, occupation and place of residence
  2. Your spouse’s full names, surname, identity number, occupation and place of residence
  3. Date when you got married and where the marriage took place
  4. Children’s full names, surnames, identity numbers and
  5. Comprehensive details of any funds (such as pension funds, retirement annuities and provident funds) which you or your spouse belongs to.

You may institute divorce proceedings in either a High Court or Magistrates’ Court (Regional Court), but where the parties are representing themselves in a simple divorce, they should approach the Regional Court.

Reference:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

IS THE TENANT OR LANDLORD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WATER LEAKS?

B4Questions, and sometimes disputes, often arise between landlords and tenants regarding where the responsibility lies with the maintenance of a property. The simple answer is that tenants can generally only be held responsible for repairs/replacement on the property if the damage was caused by the tenant’s actions, or items that have a short life span, such as light bulbs.

On the other hand, alarm systems, auto gates and doors, locks, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or anything provided to the tenant are generally the responsibility of the owner to repair, unless damaged by the tenant.

Fair wear and tear

Damage due to fair wear and tear is the owner’s responsibility to correct. This includes situations where the property has, over time, experienced wear due to its use or age.

Examples would include:

  1. Fireplace chimneys: The landlord should maintain the fireplace e.g. having the chimney cleaned at appropriate intervals. Gardens, however, would require the tenant to do general maintenance.
  2. Blocked drains: This is usually due to tenant usage making it the tenant’s responsibility, but if blockage is due to tree roots, it would be the landlord’s responsibility.

Regarding appliances, as with any fixture or fitting, the landlord is responsible for repairs to appliances provided under the tenancy agreement unless the damage was caused by the tenant’s deliberate actions or negligence.

Tenants should report any damage on the property. If they fail to do this, they could find themselves held liable for any further damage due to lack of immediate attention to the initial problem. Furthermore, tenants are obliged to provide access for contractors to effect repairs.

Conclusion

If there is a water leak on the property, it would most likely be the landlord’s responsibility to fix. It is advisable for tenants to read and understand the lease agreement fully and for landlords to list as much as possible that needs to be maintained by the tenant. For example, if the unit has a garden that the tenant is responsible for maintaining, this should be mentioned in the lease.

Reference:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

HOW TO REGISTER A TRADEMARK IN 2017

B3If you have a business and wish to keep competitors from using, or misusing, your brand, then you should consider registering a trade mark for your company’s name and logo.

A trade mark can only be protected and defended under the Trade Marks Act, 1993, if it is registered. However, unregistered trade marks may be defended in terms of common law. The registration procedure results in a registration certificate which has legal status, allowing the owner of the registered trade mark the exclusive right to use that mark.

Where do I register a trade mark?

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) administers the Register of Trade Marks which is the record of all trade marks that have been formally applied for and registered in South Africa.

A trade mark is only registrable if it serves the purpose of distinguishing the goods/services of one trader from those of another trader. Other points to remember include:

  1. It must not have become customary in your field of trade.
  2. It does not represent protected emblems such as the national flag or a depiction of a national monument such as Table Mountain.
  3. It is not offensive or contrary to the law or good morals or deceptive by nature or way of use.
  4. There are no earlier conflicting rights.

How to register a trade mark?

  1. Register as a customer on CIPC: Go to the CIPC website (www.cipc.co.za). If you are already registered as a customer, and know your customer code and password, then continue with the next step.
  2. Deposit funds: Deposit the application fee of R590 regarding every class and every trade mark applied for into the CIPC bank account using your customer code as reference.
  3. Conduct a search: In order to conduct a search, you can request a special search from CIPC, or you can conduct a cursory e-search yourself.

A registered trade mark can be protected forever, provided it is renewed every ten (10) years upon payment of the prescribed renewal fee.

To make the process easier and more successful, then contact your legal adviser, who can lodge a trade mark application on your behalf and ensure all your documentation is correct.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)