Eiendomsverlies deur verkrygende verjaring : onteiening sonder vergoeding - of nie

Van Der Walt, A. J. ; Marais, E. (2012-12)

The original publication is available at http://www.litnet.co.za/


OPSOMMING: Verkrygende verjaring word meestal beskou as ’n gedeelte van die Suid-Afrikaanse reg wat redelik regseker en onproblematies is. Die klaarblyklik onkontroversiële aard van hierdie regsreël is egter onlangs in twyfel getrek deur die vierde kamer van die Europese hof vir menseregte in die Pye-saak, waar bevind is dat adverse possession – die common law-eweknie van verjaring – ’n onteiening sonder vergoeding behels, welke gevolg strydig met artikel 1 van die eerste protokol tot die Europese Verdrag vir Menseregte, 1950 is. Alhoewel hierdie bevinding op appèl omvergewerp is, beklemtoon dit die belangrikheid van die vraag of verjaring (wat ook eiendomsverlies sonder vergoeding tot gevolg het) op een lyn met artikel 25 van die Suid-Afrikaanse Grondwet is. Om dit te beantwoord, ontleed ons die prosesse oor verjaring met verwysing na die FNB-metodologie. Hierdie artikel fokus spesifiek op die onteieningsvraagstuk, naamlik of verjaring ’n onteiening van regte ingevolge artikel 25(2) meebring. Ten einde dié kwessie aan te spreek ontleed ons hierdie regsreël teen die agtergrond van sekere kernaspekte van die Suid-Afrikaanse onteieningsreg, naamlik die aard van die onteieningsbegrip, die relevansie van staatsverkryging, welke regsbronne onteiening magtig, asook die metodes waarvolgens onteiening kan geskied. Laastens ondersoek ons die vraag of verjaring moontlik konstruktiewe onteiening behels. Deur hierdie ondersoek word getoon dat dit hoogs onwaarskynlik is dat verjaring onteiening meebring. Verjaring vind bykans altyd tussen private individue plaas en dus kan daar geen sprake van staatsverkryging van onteiende regte wees nie. Verder verleen die verjaringswette geensins onteieningsbevoegdheid aan die staat nie en maak hulle ook nie voorsiening vir vergoeding nie. Daarby kan verjaring ook nie maklik onder enige van die bestaande onteieningsmetodes tuisgebring word nie. Laastens redeneer ons dat konstruktiewe onteiening waarskynlik nie in die Suid-Afrikaanse reg bestaan nie. Gevolglik is dit dogmaties beter om verjaring te beskou as ’n nie-arbitrêre ontneming van eiendomsreg, welke ontneming nie ’n onteiening van regte tot gevolg het nie.

ABSTRACT: Acquisitive prescription is one of the original methods of acquisition of ownership and is regulated mainly by two prescription acts, read together with the common law. The requirements of this legal institution are reasonably clear and therefore most of the common law sources, the courts and legal scholars regard it as rather unproblematic in South African law. However, the apparently uncontroversial nature of this legal institution was recently challenged (although not in the South African context) in the Pye case where the fourth chamber of the European court of human rights found that adverse possession – the common law equivalent of acquisitive prescription – amounted to an uncompensated expropriation that was contrary to article 1 of the first protocol (the property clause) to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950. Although this decision was subsequently overturned on appeal by the grand chamber of the European court it highlights the question whether the processes surrounding prescription, which in effect results in a forced transfer of ownership, complies with section 25 of the Constitution of South Africa. This question is indeed topical in our law, for it was recently argued before the Western Cape high court that the loss of ownership brought about by prescription results in an uncompensated expropriation. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain clarity in this regard. To address this matter the authors analyse prescription in terms of the FNB methodology, with specific emphasis on the question whether prescription results in an uncompensated expropriation of property in conflict with section 25(2) of the Constitution. Scrutiny of the principles of expropriation, considered together with the difference between expropriation methods, leads to the conclusion that is unlikely that the effect of acquisitive prescription can be seen as expropriation. One of the key factors used by the courts to distinguish between expropriation and deprivation is to determine whether there was state acquisition of the expropriated property. In light of this approach it is difficult to see how prescription can amount to expropriation, as prescription cases invariably occur between private individuals. The state will seldom, if ever, acquire property in this manner. Furthermore, only the state has the power to expropriate property in South African law, which power must be explicitly granted to the state by way of authorising legislation. In addition, the empowering statute must set out the circumstances, procedures and conditions under which expropriation may take place, as well as the purpose for which property may be expropriated. It is trite law that expropriatory legislation must also provide for compensation. Should the authorising statute not contain any explicit or tacit provision for the payment of compensation, it is presumed that the legislation does not allow expropriation. Against this background it is significant that neither of the two prescription acts authorises the state to expropriate property. Furthermore, they do not set out the circumstances, procedures or conditions under which expropriation may take place either, nor do they mention the specific purpose for which property may be expropriated or provide for compensation. These factors underscore the unlikelihood of a conclusion that prescription results in expropriation of property. The different expropriation methods in South African law also seem to negate the possibility that prescription amounts to expropriation. Firstly, there can be no expropriation by way of administrative action in the case of prescription, as prescription occurs by operation of law and thus in the absence of the exercise of an administrative discretion. No discretion is exercised and hence no administrative decision is taken. Secondly, it is also impossible to regard prescription as a judicial method of expropriation, as the acquisition of ownership through this legal institution does not depend on a court order. Again, this method of expropriation is possible only in circumstances where legislation specifically empowers courts to expropriate property in this manner. As to the question whether prescription perhaps entails some form of statutory expropriation, matters are slightly more complicated due to the supreme court of appeal’s recent judgment in the Agri SA case. In this decision the court merely assumed, without deciding, that statutory expropriation does form part of South African law. Nonetheless, there are convincing arguments that this method of expropriation – if it exists in South African law at all – applies only to very exceptional circumstances where legislation explicitly intends to expropriate certain specific rights in property through mere promulgation of the act and against payment of compensation. As the prescription acts do not satisfy any of these strict requirements it is very unlikely that they could qualify as a source of statutory expropriation. Finally, the authors address the question whether prescription does not perhaps entail constructive expropriation of property. Both the supreme court of appeal and the constitutional court have to date been reluctant to recognise this form of state interference in South African law. This reluctance is based on sound principles, as the FNB methodology, together with Roux’s prediction of the “telescoping effect” of the section 25(1) arbitrariness test, leaves little – if any – room for recognising a third form of state interference alongside or in between deprivation and expropriation. Nevertheless, even if the courts should abandon the FNB methodology, it remains unlikely that constructive expropriation forms part of our law, partly due to the nature of the requirements for a valid expropriation in South African law. On the basis of all these considerations the authors conclude that it is dogmatically sounder to regard acquisitive prescription as non-arbitrary deprivation of property, which deprivation does not entail an expropriation of property. In this regard prescription forms part of the state’s normal regulatory or police power to resolve conflicting claims to property by shifting ownership – under strictly defined circumstances – from one person to another for a legitimate public purpose.

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