Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal/Potchefstroomse Elektroniese Regsblad

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The Constitutionalisation of the Test for Statutory Illegality in South African Contract Law: Cool Ideas v Hubbard 2014 4 SA 474 (CC)

Odwa Golela


This paper investigates the constitutionalisation of the test for statutory illegality (the test) in South African contract law, firstly through a careful evaluation of the manner in which the Constitutional Court (CC) applied the test in Cool Ideas v Hubbard, secondly through the manner in which the CC purports to constitutionalise the test in the said case, and thirdly through asking if such a method is desirable in the constitutional dispensation. It can be conceded that the approach taken by the main judgment to the application of the test in this case is more compelling than that taken by Froneman J. However, the fundamental differences in these approaches, particularly in the determination of the impact of the Constitution and its underlying values, highlight the need for an investigation into the test and the way it should operate in the constitutional dispensation. The paper begins by setting out the test and shows that it is capable of reflecting the values that underlie the Constitution (while maintaining a workable level of legal certainty) and that the test can operate in a manner that enhances the vision and goals of the Constitution. It also proposes a framework within which the various factors of the test should be weighed up, with a view to determining whether the contract under investigation is valid or invalid. Then the paper evaluates the CC's application of the test. It criticises the main judgment for its incomplete undertaking of the enquiry envisaged in sections 8(1) and (2) of the Constitution, as it took into account neither the "spirit, purport and objects" underpinning section 25(1), nor the fundamental values of the Constitution. It also criticises Froneman J's judgment for not connecting the value of fairness with the "spirit, purport and objects" underpinning section 25(1) or the broader fundamental values of the Constitution. Thereafter, it considers the manner in which the CC purports to constitutionalise the test. It points out that equity considerations apply in all matters, whether a substantive right is implicated or not, as they ensure that the "application" and "interpretation" of a statute enhance and are in line with the "objective normative value system" that is the Bill of Rights. Lastly, it considers the desirability of the CC's approach to the application of the test and its constitutionalisation. It points out that the main judgment goes to the extremes of objectivity in interpreting the relevant provisions of the Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act, 1998 (within the application of the test), while Froneman J goes to the extremes of subjectivity. In this regard, it suggests that courts can use the "balance of convenience" test to adjust their decisions to accommodate the circumstances of each case. Therefore, it concludes that the approach to constitutionalising the test lies somewhere between that of the main judgment and that of Froneman J.

Keywords: Contract law; statutory illegality; constitutionalisation; Cool Ideas v Hubbard.

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