Month: April 2016

Right to a fair trial

A4_BAfter the Oscar Pistorius saga everyone is wondering about the procedures of a murder trial. In this article we will discuss the right to a fair trial.

In the case of Zanner v Director of Public Prosecutions, Johannesburg (107/05) [2006] ZASCA 56, 2002 (2) SACR 45 (SCA); [2006] 2 All SA 588 (SCA), the factory worker threw a tool at a colleague, which ended fatally. In the statement of the accused he alleged that the tool had slipped from his oily hands when he slung his shoulders in a gesture of irritation. The matter could at first not proceed with trial as the witness was missing. Once she had been found, the trial was set down to be heard. However, the charge was withdrawn as representations had been made on behalf of the accused.

After ten years the case had been reopened as the accused had been charged for killing his wife, which was a direct relation to his previous conviction. The accused relied on Section 35 (3) (d) of the Constitution which states that “every accused person has the right to a fair trial, which include the right to have their trial begin without unreasonable delay”.

In this matter the accused believed that his case would suffer prejudice due to the previous murder trial of ten years ago. Furthermore, Section 38 of the Constitution grants a relevant party the right to approach a competent court on the ground that a right in the Bill of Rights has been infringed or threatened and, depending on the circumstances of each particular case, the court may grant appropriate relief, including a declaration of rights. Trial related prejudice refers to prejudice suffered by an accused mainly because of witnesses becoming unavailable and memories fading as a result of the delay, in consequence whereof such accused may be prejudiced in the conduct of his or her trial[1].

Counsel agreed that the delay in prosecution had to be calculated from the date when the accused was first charged with the offence. The judge did not find in favour of the accused; however, he noted that each case is different and the lengthy delay cannot always be seen as an infringement on a right. The circumstances of the unreasonable delay needed to be investigated.

In this matter the accused’s previous conviction trial had been delayed because the witness was missing, the original docket papers were missing and the representations had been made on behalf of the accused. No issues of restricted freedom, stress, anxiety or social ostracism arose. The judge therefore found that the accused was not denied a right and the appeal was dismissed with costs.

[1] S v Dzukudu and others; S v Tshilo 2000 (2) SACR 443 (CC)

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)

Claims from the Road Accident Fund

A3_BIn terms of current legislation, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) is entitled to offer undertakings or guarantees to a Plaintiff who is in the process of instituting a claim against the Fund. The fact that an undertaking is offered instead of a traditional lump sum payment has certain positive and negative aspects to it. It is important to know when to accept or reject certain offers from the Road Accident Fund.

In terms of Section 17(4) of The Road Accident Fund Amendment Act[1], there are 2 categories of undertakings that can be offered by the Road Accident Fund.

Firstly, in terms of Section 17(4)(a) of the Act, an undertaking may be offered by the Road Accident Fund when the Claimant has a claim for medical expenses. When the Claimant has actually paid the amount required for whatever treatment was needed, the Fund will refund the proven amount. In terms of Section 17(4)(a) the Claimant has no option as to whether the amount may be accepted or not and when the Fund makes an offer in terms of future medical costs, it has to be accepted by the Claimant.

In terms of Section 17(4)(b), the Road Accident Fund is entitled to make an offer to the Claimant for an undertaking to pay the Claimant’s future loss of earnings. Payment would only be suspended when the Claimant reaches his predicted retirement age, or if the payments are made to the deceased breadwinner’s dependant. The payment will cease when the dependant’s right to maintenance is suspended.

This type of undertaking differs from the type as mentioned in terms of Section 17(4)(a), however, as the Claimant or his/her representative is not obliged to accept the offer that is made by the Road Accident Fund. There must be consensus between the Road Accident Fund and the Claimant regarding the content of the undertaking and the instalments paid to the Claimant must then reflect the agreement that was reached. This was established in the case of Coetzee v Guardian National Insurance Co Ltd.[2]

In this regard it is important to note that it is often advantageous for the Claimant if an initial lump sum is paid instead of an undertaking for the payment of a periodical amount. When future loss of income is paid in terms of a periodical payment from the Fund, payments will be terminated if the Claimant dies. This would be different if an initial lump sum was paid, because even if the Claimant dies before the predicted date, as future losses are calculated, the Fund will not be able to have any amount repaid to them by the Claimant. Of course this will benefit the Claimant’s estate and family, as a bigger amount will be paid than where an undertaking was made.

The benefit of accepting an offer by the Fund is that the Fund will be more likely to make a settlement offer to the Claimant when it is done in the form of an undertaking. This will be preferred by the RAF as it will have a lesser impact on the Fund’s cash flow. The important thing to consider is that a fair settlement should be negotiated between the RAF and the Claimant, bearing the aforementioned factors in mind.

It will be beneficial for a Claimant to appoint an attorney to make sure that the Claimant receives fair compensation from the Fund.

[1] Road Accident Fund Amendment Act 19 of 2005

[2] Coetzee v Guardian National Insurance Co Ltd 1993 (3) SA 388 (WLD)

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)

Validity of Antenuptial Contracts

A2_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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Basic Conditions of Employment

A1_B There are basic standards which are set out in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 which regulate, amongst other, the working hours that employees are permitted to work. Whether these conditions are enforced in practice, however, is uncertain.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) sets certain minimum standards of working conditions for employees. In Section 1 and 3 the BCEA sets out that it does not apply to independent contractors, as well as certain others such as unpaid volunteers, members of the South African National Defence Force and South African National Secret Service. Conditions regulating working hours are included in the BCEA which, in addition to the general exclusions mentioned above, exclude the following persons:

  • Senior managers;
  • Sales staff who travel to the premises of customers and who regulate their own work hours;
  • Employees who work less than 24 hours a month for an employer;
  • Employees earning in excess of R 205 433.30 per annum.

If you do not fall into one of the abovementioned categories then the conditions in the BCEA (Sections 9 to 15) regulating working hours will apply to you.

The maximum amount of working hours per week are 45 hours. Those who work five days a week may work for 9 hours a day and those working six or seven days a week may work for 8 hours a day. These hours may be extended by agreement between an employee and employer but this extension is limited to a maximum of an extra 15 minutes per day or, alternatively, an extra 60 minutes per week.

A meal interval of at least 1 hour is due to an employee who works continuously for more than 5 hours and at this time the employee may only be asked to perform tasks that cannot be left undone or that cannot be entrusted to another employee. If the employee is required to work during a work interval, or if they are required to be available for work, that employee must be remunerated for being available during that time.

Overtime is limited to 10 hours per week if it is arranged per agreement between an employer and employee. This can, however, be increased to 15 hours a week by means of a collective agreement but this agreement is limited in duration in that it may not apply for more than 2 months in a 12 month period. The rate at which remuneration is calculated for overtime is at 1.5 times the employee’s normal remuneration.

These are some of the basic conditions regulating working hours, and further conditions and exceptions thereto can be found in Section 9 – 18 of the BCEA. Although the abovementioned conditions seem to provide protection to employees many employees will merely take note of them and continue to work overtime continuously without pay and without complaining. Unfortunately we live in a country where there are far more people to fill jobs than jobs available and therefore the only time that this Act is properly utilised is through collective bargaining and trade unions; therefore it offers little comfort to individual employees not belonging to trade unions.

Bibliography:

  • A C Basson, M A Christianson, A Dekker, C Gerbers, P A K Le Roux, C Mischke, E M L Strydom: Essential Labour Law 5th ed. (2009)
  • Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997

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)

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