TO PROSECUTE OR NOT

A1_bAn action may be a crime or a delict but where your actions were trivial, a court may decide not to prosecute you or a judge will not entertain a claim against you due to the de minimis non curat lex rule.

If you find yourself charged with a minor crime such as theft for taking one small sweet from a store then the de minimis non curat lex rule (de minimis), which means “the law does not concern itself with trifles”, may come in handy for you.

De minimis is a decision of a court to allow unlawful conduct to go unpunished due to its triviality. An example of such a decision is where the Appellate Division in S v Kgogong refused to convict a person of theft because the accused stole a worthless piece of paper. Another example would be from the case of S v Dane where a person accused of malicious damage to property was acquitted because all he had done was to cut a small portion of another person’s hedge.

The application of the de minimis maxim is very limited in regard to statutory offences. This was discussed in the case of DPP (EC) v Klue in which the High Court overturned the Magistrate’s decision that the offence of driving a vehicle on a public road with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding the prescribed minimum was de minimis.

The High Court held in the abovementioned case that the aims and objectives of the legislation containing the offence are important and that the Road Traffic Act, in particular the provision offended, is aimed at reducing road accidents. The High Court also held that there was no room for the Magistrate to apply the de minimis maxim because the minimum amounts had already been determined after careful consideration by the Legislature.

The de minimis maxim also applies to criminal assault charges and delictual claims. In regard to delictual claims, when a person’s bodily integrity has been wrongfully and intentionally infringed, he or she can claim satisfaction with the actio iniurarum unless the de minimis rule applies to his or her claim. In regard to criminal assault charges trivial assaults, such as a slap on the back or a shove in a crowd may be disregarded in terms of the de minimis rule. This would have to be seen in context of the nature of the act, especially where one is dealing with sexual assault, as a mere touch could be very serious and in these circumstances the de minimis rule would not come into play.

The purpose of the de minimis rule is to avoid the burdening of the courts with minimal complaints which would result in wasted costs, resources and time. It is further to avoid the situation where more serious crimes and delictual claims take even longer to be dealt with due to these trivial issues taking up the court’s time. This will result in the criminal justice system and the court system being brought into disrepute for not being able to deal with serious matters efficiently.

Bibliography
• Burchell J: Principles of Criminal Law 2006 (3rd ed) 355 – 356
• S v Kgogong 1980 (3) SA 600 (A)
• S v Dane 1957 (2) SA 472 (N)
• DPP (EC) v Klue 2003 (1) SACR 389 (E)
• Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996

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.

VALIDITY OF ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS

A4_bOne must be careful when drafting and signing an Antenuptial Contract. Aside from ensuring that the contents is all correct, one must also ensure that all the necessary provisions are contained therein to make the contract valid. The consequences of neglecting to do so may result in a marriage in community of property even though the parties had no intention of this at the time of their marriage.

Attorneys are often trusted with the task of drafting an Antenuptial Contract. This is a contract, which one signs to regulate the property regime of a marriage. If a couple does not sign, an Antenuptial Contract then the marital property regime will be that of in community of property. The presence of an Antenuptial Contract means that the marital property regime is that of out of community of property and the parties must specifically stipulate whether they would like the accrual system to apply to their marriage or not.

The importance of ensuring that all the necessary provisions are contained in the Antenuptial Contract to result in a valid contract was discussed in the 2014 Supreme Court of Appeal Case of B v B[1]. In this case, no values were stated in respect of any of the assets listed in the Antenuptial Contract and they were also not properly identified. In B v B the court stated that if the terms of a contract are so vague and incoherent as to be incapable of a sensible construction then the contract must be regarded as void for vagueness.[2]

According to Section 6(1) of the Matrimonial Property Act[3] ,a party to an intended marriage which does not, for the purpose of proof of the value of his or her estate at the time of the commencement of the marriage, declare the value in the contract, then he or she may do so within six months of the marriage in a statement attested to by a notary. If this is not done, according to Section 6(4) of the Marital Property Act, the net value of the estate of a spouse is then deemed to be nil at the time of the marriage. In effect, such a contract is valid but it will effectively render the marriage in community of property since nothing was excluded from the accrual.

However, if a contract is contradictory and incoherent in other respects then it cannot be seen as a valid contract since there is no certainty as to the meaning of the contract and what the parties seek to achieve. This means that the contract would not embody terms that would enable to court to give effect to the intention of the parties at the time the contract was concluded.

The result of such a contract is that the Antenuptial Contract would be void for vagueness and that the marital property regime would be the default position according to the Marital Property Act, which is in community of property.

Therefore, parties are encouraged to read their contracts thoroughly and ensure that they understand the terms thereof and that the contract embodies their intentions without any further explanations or evidence.

[1] (952/12) [2014] ZASCA 14 (24 March 2014).

[2] B v B (952/12) [2014] ZASCA 14 (24 March 2014) par 7.

[3] 88 of 1984.

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.

RESCISSION OF JUDGEMENT

A3_bImagine receiving the nasty surprise that default judgement has been entered against your name because of a summons that you have never even received. It is necessary that you know the procedure of how to rescind a default judgement to get you out of this unwanted situation.

Many people are confronted with the unfortunate situation of a judgement being entered against their name, without even being aware that legal action is being taken against them. The reason for this is that when a party fails to deliver a notice of intention to defend a summons, a Plaintiff is entitled to lodge an application for default judgment.[1]

The reason for many Defendants not filing a notice of intention to defend, is the fact that they simply never receive the summons initiating an action against them. Personal service of documents by the Sheriff is only required where the matter affects a person’s personal status, such as with divorces and sequestrations. As it is not a requirement for the Sheriff personally, to serve a summons on a person, it can lead to situations where the Defendant never sees the summons, although the Sheriff stated that the summons has been legitimately served.[2] An example hereof many people who indicate their domicilium citandi et executandi or nominated address where notices are sent, in an agreement. In the event of the Defendant moving, the Sheriff will still deliver the summons to this address, but the Defendant will never receive it.

In the event of a Defendant not receiving a summons, certain steps have to be taken to have the judgment rescinded. The Defendant has to serve and file his application for rescission of judgment within 20 days after becoming aware of the judgment that was entered against him.[3] The Defendant (now the Applicant) is required to set out in an affidavit why the matter was not defended and what the bona fide defence is to the claim.  The onus is upon the Applicant to set out legitimate reasons for why the matter was not defended.[4]

When bringing an application for the rescission of judgement before court, the following principles are applicable:[5]

The Applicant must give a reasonable explanation for his default. The court will be unwilling to help the Applicant if it is found that he was aware of the proceedings against him or if the default was simply due to his own negligence. If the Applicant’s default is of a wilful or negligent nature, these will serve as considerations that the court will take into account when deciding whether an application should be granted.

In many cases an Applicant simply rescinds a default judgement to delay the inevitable. It is therefore necessary for the Applicant to show that he is not simply delaying the Plaintiff’s claim. A bona fide defence, in other word a genuine defence, must therefore be shown, although it is not required to deal fully with the merits thereof or produce any evidence in this regard.

Ultimately, the court has discretion whether to rescind the default judgment or not, based on whether good cause was shown by the Applicant.[6]

Although it involves an unwanted and often lengthy and expensive process, it is important to have any judgments against your name rescinded as soon as possible, as they have a negative impact on your credit rating. These judgements, if executed, will also leave you highly annoyed when the Sheriff shows up on your doorstep with a warrant of execution to seize your personal belongings.

[1] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 12(1)(c)

[2] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 9(3)

[3] Magistrates Court, Rules of Court, Rule 49(1)

[4] Du Plessis v Tager 1953 (2) SA 5 (O)

[5] Grant v Plumbers (Pty) Ltd 1949 (2) SA 470 (O)

[6] De Witts Auto Body Repairs v Fedgen Insurance Co Ltd 1994 (4) SA 705

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.

ANNULMENT OF A MARRIAGE

A2_bConsent is an essential element of a valid marriage and the parties to a marriage must confirm before the marriage officer during a civil ceremony that they voluntarily consent to marry each other.[1] There are certain circumstances where it can be said that consensus was not present, and this will be discussed below.

Six months after John marries Laura they decide that they want to start a family. John finds out from the doctors that he is sterile and cannot have children. Laura is distraught and contacts her attorney, saying that she would never have married John if she had known that he could not have children.

Laura’s attorney explains to her the circumstances in which consensus will either be lacking or materially deficient, in which case the marriage can be annulled (set aside).

Firstly, a material mistake will result in a lack of consensus. A material mistake is limited to where there is a mistake as to the identity of your spouse or a mistake regarding the actual act of marriage in that you did not understand that the ceremony in which you took part resulted in marriage with the other party. In these circumstances there is uncertainty as to whether the marriage never came into existence or if it can be set aside. One may also make mistakes regarding the personal characteristics of your spouse. This may only be a ground on which the validity of the marriage can be challenged if these are material characteristics. The decision whether a mistake regarding a personal characteristic is material or not rests with the Court.[2]

Secondly, a misrepresentation by your spouse may justify the setting aside of a marriage if that misrepresentation relates to a material aspect of the marriage. In the scenario above, if John was aware of the fact that he was sterile before entering into the marriage with Laura, then Laura could attempt to prove that she was misled and state that if she was aware of John’s sterility, she would never have married him. However, if John was unaware that he was sterile, this is not a sufficient ground on which to set a marriage aside.[3]

Thirdly, if one of the parties was unduly influenced or placed under duress to marry the other party by any person including but not limited to the party to which they have been married, then there is no consensus and the marriage can be set aside.[4]

Fourthly, impotence, being the inability to have sexual intercourse, may be a valid ground for setting aside a marriage, but this will not be so if it was reasonably foreseeable at the time that the marriage was entered into that sexual intercourse wouldn’t take place based on factors such as age or illness.[5]

Fifthly, if the scenario above was altered to read that Laura was pregnant with another man’s baby at the time that she married John then he could apply to have the marriage set aside on the basis that this state of affairs would most likely result in an unhappy marriage. He may only make this application if he was unaware of the pregnancy at the time that they were married and if he has not waived his right to have the marriage annulled.[6]

Bibliography:

  • Robinson JA, Human S, Boshoff A, Smith BS, Carnelley M, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th, 2009, 92 – 94.
  • Heaton J, South African Family Law 3rd, 2010, 37.
  • Marriage Act, 25 of 1961.

[1] Section 30(1) of the Marriage Act, 25 of 1961.

[2] Robinson JA, Human S, Boshoff A, Smith BS, Carnelley M, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th ed. (2009) 92.

[3] Robinson JA, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th ed. (2009) 93.

[4] Robinson JA, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th ed. (2009) 93.

[5] Heaton J, South African Family Law, 3rd ed. (2010) 38; Robinson JA, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th ed. (2009) 94.

[6] Heaton J, South African Family Law 3rd ed. (2010) 37; Robinson JA, Introduction to South African Family Law, 4th ed. (2009) 94.

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.