Supreme Court of Appeal Clarifies ‘Next Highest Court’ Interpretation, Ends Tshwane Municipality’s Power Dispute

  • Landmark Ruling on Superior Courts Act: The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa made a significant ruling on the interpretation of section 18(4) of the Superior Courts Act. The case revolved around a dispute between the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and Vresthena (Pty) Ltd, a property owner, over the disconnection of services due to non-payment by tenants.
  • Interpretation of 'Next Highest Court': The crux of the case was the interpretation of the phrase 'next highest court' in section 18(4) of the Superior Courts Act. The court ruled that this phrase allows for only one appeal to the court immediately above the lower court, thereby making the Municipality's notice of appeal irregular and void.
  • Implications of the Judgement: The judgement sets a precedent for future cases involving the right to appeal to the 'next highest court'. It underscores the importance of the expedited appeal process introduced by section 18(4) to prevent irreversible harm caused by a court granting an execution order inappropriately. Despite multiple orders, the Municipality had not reconnected the electricity to Vresthena, thwarting the purpose of the extraordinary appeal process.
judgment

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa has made a significant ruling on the interpretation of section 18(4) of the Superior Courts Act. The case involved the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and Vresthena (Pty) Ltd, a property owner in the Zambesi Retail Park shopping centre.

The dispute began when the Municipality disconnected electricity and water services to Vresthena’s properties due to non-payment by the tenants. In response, Vresthena filed an urgent application in the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria, seeking to compel the Municipality to review its application for a separate electricity connection for the tenants and to restore the disconnected services.

On 16 June 2022, the High Court granted an interim order on an urgent basis, ordering the Municipality to restore the services within 14 days. The court further authorised Vresthena to instruct an electrician to reconnect the electricity should the Municipality fail to comply with the order.

The Municipality subsequently applied for leave to appeal the judgement. In response, Vresthena filed an application under section 18(3) of the Superior Courts Act, seeking a declaratory order stating that the High Court’s order should not be suspended while the Municipality’s application for leave to appeal was being considered.

On 28 September 2022, the High Court granted the Municipality leave to appeal the judgement and ordered that the order given on 16 June 2022 should be put into effect and carried out while the appeal decision was pending. The Municipality then exercised its automatic right of appeal under section 18(4) by filing an appeal to the full court of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria, against the execution order.

The crux of the case was the interpretation of the phrase ‘next highest court’ in section 18(4) of the Superior Courts Act. The Municipality argued that this phrase should be interpreted to include more than one court of appeal. In contrast, Vresthena contended that section 18(4) allows for only one appeal to the court immediately above the lower court.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the Municipality’s notice of appeal was irregular and void. The court held that section 18(4) establishes a mechanism for a single appeal that will be concluded in an expedited process. The decision made by the ‘next highest court’ in the appeal process is final and cannot be appealed any further.

The court also noted that despite a reconnection order being issued on 16 June 2022, an order under section 18(3) in September 2022, and an order of the full court in November 2022, the Municipality had still not reconnected the electricity to Vresthena, thus thwarting the purpose of the extraordinary appeal process introduced by section 18(4).

In the final judgement, the Supreme Court of Appeal struck the matter from the roll with costs, including the costs of two counsel where so employed.

This judgement provides a significant interpretation of the Superior Courts Act and sets a precedent for future cases involving the right to appeal to the ‘next highest court’. It also underscores the importance of the expedited appeal process introduced by section 18(4) to prevent irreversible harm caused by a court granting an execution order inappropriately.

Read City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality v Vresthena (Pty) Ltd and Others (1124/2022) [2023] ZASCA 104 below:

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