During the period of March 2008 to March 2012 the appellant, Mr Andile Silatsha (“the Appellant”), was an inmate at St Albans Correctional Facility in Port Elizabeth. In October 2012, the Appellant instituted proceedings against the Minister of Correctional Services (“the Minister”) in the Port Elizabeth High Court, wherein damages were sought in respect of “unlawful and wrongful detention in a single cell.”
The Appellant alleged that he was isolated in a single cell during his incarceration, which restricted him from accessing various prison facilities. The Appellant contended further that the manner of detention was wrongful and unlawful, and, moreover, constituted torture and/or cruel, inhumane and/or degrading treatment, resulting in a violation of his rights to human dignity, freedom and personal security, freedom from violence.
Conversely, the Minister argued that various provisions of the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998 sanctioned the nature of the Appellant’s detention, specifically, that the Appellant was a “security risk” in light of the number of offences of which the Appellant was convicted, together with the fact that he had previously escaped from custody. As such, the Minister’s election to confine the Appellant to a single cell was (according to the Minister) an administrative decision in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000. The Minister therefore argued that the decision to isolate the Appellant was an administrative action that the Appellant would have to have reviewed and potentially set aside and, until such time, the Appellant was barred from bringing a claim for damages on the abovementioned grounds.
At pre-trial, the parties agreed to a separation of issues in terms of rule 33(4) of the Uniform Rules of Court, specifically, whether the Minister’s operational administrative action precluded the Appellant from instituting a claim for damages.
The matter proceeded before the High Court solely on the separated issues. It was subsequently determined that the lack of a challenge to the administrative action implemented by the Minister rendered the circumstances of imprisonment lawful and valid. The Appellant’s claim before the High Court was accordingly dismissed.
The SCA was petitioned to determine whether the High Court erred in proceeding solely on the separated issues, and if same could, in fact, provide a basis upon which the entire matter could be resolved.
On appeal, the SCA criticised the reasons furnished by the High Court, given that certain pertinent facts were, due to the separation, not before the Court. As such, the SCA opined that all material particulars of the case ought to have been ventilated and decided on by the High Court, prior to handing down judgment in respect of the Appellant’s claim.
The SCA cautioned against a “robotic” application of rule 33(4) by courts, as issues are oftentimes “inextricably linked” and, therefore, incapable of separation. As such, it is only after careful thought has been given to the anticipated course of the litigation as a whole that it will be possible to properly determine whether it is convenient to try an issue separately.
It is for this reason, and in light of the facts at hand, that the SCA held that the High Court was inextricably bound to the facts of the matter, which did not lend itself to separate adjudication. As such, it follows that the order handed down by the High Court could not stand and the matter must proceed to trial for a full ventilation and adjudication of all the issues.
The Case emphasises the importance of proper consideration of a matter and cautions against the rigid application of Court Rules without consideration of the nature of a matter. Ultimately, should there be a separation of issues in a trial this is to be done where such tactic aids in the resolution of same.
Written by Kirsten Chetty and supervised by Jarryd Spargo, 22 October 2018