26 May 2020


International Cases

Gold Circle (pty) ltd v. Anil b maharaj

South Africa

03.06.2019

Civil

A Court’s finding of its lack of jurisdiction prevents any binding decision by that court on merits of the matter

The Respondent, Mr Anil Bhagwan Maharaj, a professional racehorse trainer, instituted proceedings in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 4 of 2000 (PEPUDA) alleging that, the Applicant, Gold Circle (Pty) Ltd (Gold Circle), a racing operator, had unfairly discriminated against him on racial grounds. His claim was instituted in the Durban Magistrate’s Court sitting as the Equality Court. At the directions hearing held at the Equality Court (presided over by Magistrate van Rooyen), Gold Circle raised a special plea of res judicata in the form of issue estoppel. The Equality Court upheld the special plea and dismissed Mr Maharaj’s claim with costs.

Mr. Maharaj appealed against the finding of the Equality Court. It upheld that appeal with costs and remitted the matter to the Equality Court for a hearing de novo before another magistrate. The issue is whether second referral precluded by the operation of doctrine of res judicata or issue estoppel .

It is well established that a court’s finding of its lack of jurisdiction prevents any binding decision by that court on the merits of the matter. It follows that the only finding that is binding in relation to the 2013 Equality Court case before Magistrate Motala is the one in terms of which he found that the Equality Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case as he considered it to be an application for review. His views on res judicata were obiter and not binding. The doctrine of res judicata must be carefully delineated and demarcated in order to prevent hardship and actual injustice to the parties.

The question that must be answered is whether there was any new evidence placed before the Equality Court in the 2016 claim, which was not previously adduced in the adjudication of the 2008 claim. The answer to this question must be answered in the affirmative. First, the new evidence regarding Mr Maharaj having undergone extensive anger management counselling, is directly relevant to his previous infractions which resulted in his five year suspension. It was admitted in the answering affidavit on behalf of Gold Circle that this evidence is new. The reports of Professor Gangat, a specialist psychiatrist, and Dr Motala, a clinical psychologist, indicate that Mr Maharaj has successfully undergone anger management counselling and that he has responded positively to treatment. Mr Maharaj wishes to use this evidence to show that, the reasons advanced by Gold Circle for its decision are a sham. Whether it does so is not for this court to decide, but Mr Maharaj is entitled to seek to use it for that purpose.

The grounds of his complaint may be the same as in 2008, but Mr Maharaj contends that facts that have arisen since then may undermine the reasons given by Gold Circle. It follows that, the finding of issue estoppel was an error on the part of the Equality Court. Given that finding, there is no reason why Mr Maharaj should be precluded from placing evidence before the Equality Court. As no evidence was led in respect of the merits of the 2016 claim, the court a quo correctly remitted the matter to the Equality Court for a hearing de novo.

A proper determination of the matter warranted that, the facts constituting new evidence be presented in the Equality Court be tested. The court a quo thus correctly remitted the matter to the Equality Court for evidence to be presented on the merits. However, given that the allegations of racism had not been tested by cross-examination and that Gold Circle had countered the allegations of its lack of transformation by presenting names of black people who had allegedly benefitted from transformation policies of Gold Circle, there was simply no basis for the Court a quo to have made remarks from which it could be implied that Gold Circle is racist. The court a quo seems to have made findings pertaining to the very nub of the case based on unproved facts. This is contrary to established legal principles which dictate that inferences be drawn only if they are justified by proven facts.

The legal principles applicable to the remittal of a matter for a de novo hearing are well-established. The pleadings already filed in the matter continue to stand. In relation to this matter, the pleadings are Mr Maharaj’s referral, Gold Circle’s response thereto and all the affidavits filed in compliance with the directions made by Magistrate van Rooyen.

It is therefore not for present court to prescribe how the adjudication of the matter at the Equality Court should unfold. Both parties will have to comply with any further directions that may be given by the magistrate who will preside over the matter pertaining to the giving of evidence at that hearing.

Tags : Complaint Unfair discrimination Remittal

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