A comparative evaluation of the judicial discretion to refuse specific performance

Van Der Merwe, Su-Anne (2014-12)

Thesis (LLD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis examines the contractual remedy of specific performance in South African law. It looks closely and critically at the discretionary power of the courts to refuse to order specific performance. The focus is on the considerations relevant to the exercise of the judicial discretion. First, it emphasises the tension between the right and the discretion. It is argued that it is problematical for our courts to refuse to order specific performance in the exercise of their discretion. The underlying difficulty is that the discretion of the court to refuse specific performance is fundamentally in conflict with the supposed right of the plaintiff to claim specific performance. The thesis investigates the tenability of this open-ended discretionary approach to the availability of specific performance as a remedy for breach of contract. To this end, the thesis examines less complex, more streamlined approaches embodied in different international instruments. Comparison between different legal systems is also used in order to highlight particular problems in the South African approach, and to see whether a better solution may be borrowed from elsewhere. An investigation of the availability of this remedy in other legal systems and international instruments reveals that the South African approach is incoherent and unduly complex. In order to illustrate this point, the thesis examines four of the grounds on which our courts have refused to order specific performance. In the first two instances, namely, when damages provide adequate relief, and when it will be difficult for the court to oversee the execution of the order, we see that the courts gradually attach less or even no weight to these factors when deciding whether or not to order specific performance. In the third instance, namely, personal service contracts, the courts have at times been willing to grant specific performance, but have also refused it in respect of highly personal obligations, which is understandable insofar as the law wishes to avoid forced labour and sub-standard performances. The analysis of the fourth example, namely, undue hardship, demonstrates that the courts continue to take account of the interests of defendants and third parties when deciding whether or not to order specific performance. This study found that there are certain circumstances in which the courts invariably refuse to order specific performance and where the discretionary power that courts have to refuse specific performance is actually illusory. It is argued that our law relating to specific performance could be discredited if this reality is not reflected in legal doctrine. Given this prospect, possible solutions to the problem are evaluated, and an argument is made in favour of a simpler concrete approach that recognises more clearly-defined rules with regard to when specific performance should be refused in order to provide coherency and certainty in the law. This study concludes that a limited right to be awarded specific performance may be preferable to a right which is subject to an open-ended discretion to refuse it, and that an exception-based approach could provide a basis for the simplification of our law governing specific performance of contracts.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis ondersoek die benadering tot die kontraktuele remedie van spesifieke nakoming in die Suid-Afrikaanse reg. Die diskresionêre bevoegdheid van howe om spesifieke nakoming te weier word van nader en krities aanskou. Die fokus is op die oorwegings wat ‘n rol speel by die uitoefening van die diskresie. Eerstens beklemtoon die tesis die spanning tussen die reg en die regterlike diskresie. Daar word aangevoer dat dit problematies is dat ons howe ‘n eis om spesifieke nakoming kan weier in die uitoefening van hul diskresie. Die onderliggende probleem is dat die hof se diskresie om spesifieke nakoming te weier, fundamenteel in stryd is met die sogenaamde reg van die eiser om spesifieke nakoming te eis. Die tesis ondersoek die houbaarheid van hierdie onbelemmerde diskresionêre benadering tot die beskikbaarheid van spesifieke nakoming as ‘n remedie vir kontrakbreuk. Vervolgens ondersoek die tesis die vereenvoudigde benaderings ten opsigte van spesifieke nakoming beliggaam in verskillende internasionale instrumente. Vergelyking tussen verskillende regstelsels word ook gebruik om spesifieke probleme in die Suid- Afrikaanse benadering uit te lig, en om vas te stel of daar ‘n beter oplossing van elders geleen kan word. ‘n Ondersoek van die aanwesigheid van hierdie remedie in ander regstelsels en internasionale instrumente onthul dat die Suid-Afrikaanse benadering onsamehangend en onnodig ingewikkeld is. Om hierdie punt te illustreer, ondersoek die tesis vier gronde waarop die remedie tipies geweier word. In die eerste twee gevalle, naamlik, wanneer skadevergoeding genoegsame regshulp sal verleen en wanneer dit vir die hof moeilik sal wees om toesig te hou oor die uitvoering van die bevel, sien ons dat die howe geleidelik minder of selfs geen gewig aan hierdie faktore heg wanneer hulle besluit of spesifieke nakoming toegestaan moet word nie. In die derde geval, naamlik, dienskontrakte, sien ons dat die howe bereid is om in sekere gevalle spesifieke nakoming toe te staan, maar egter nie spesifieke nakoming ten opsigte van hoogs persoonlike verpligtinge gelas nie, wat verstaanbaar is tot die mate wat ons reg dwangarbeid en swak prestasies wil vermy. Die analise van die vierde grond, naamlik, buitensporige benadeling, toon dat die howe voortgaan om die belange van die verweerder en derde partye in ag te neem wanneer hulle besluit om spesifieke nakoming te beveel. Die studie het bevind dat daar sekere omstandighede is waarin die howe nooit spesifieke nakoming toestaan nie en die diskresie eintlik afwesig is. Derhalwe word dit aangevoer dat die geldende reg wat betref spesifieke nakoming weerlê kan word indien hierdie werklikheid nie in die substantiewe reg weerspieël word nie. Gegewe die vooruitsig, word moontlike oplossings ondersoek, en ‘n argument word gemaak ten gunste van ‘n eenvoudiger konkrete benadering wat meer duidelik gedefinieerde reëls erken met betrekking tot wanneer spesifieke nakoming geweier moet word ten einde regsekerheid en eenvormigheid te bevorder. Die gevolgtrekking is dat ‘n beperkte aanspraak op spesifieke nakoming meer wenslik is as ‘n reg op spesifieke nakoming wat onderhewig is aan die hof se oorheersende diskresie om dit te weier, en dat ‘n uitsondering-gebaseerde benadering as ‘n basis kan dien vir die vereenvoudiging van ons reg rakende spesifieke nakoming.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/95952
This item appears in the following collections: