Court name
Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe
Case number
SC 306 of 2010

Trustees, Leonard Cheshire Homes Zimbabwe Central Trust v Chiite & 7 Ors (SC 306 of 2010) [2015] ZWCC 24 (08 February 2015);

Law report citations
Media neutral citation
[2015] ZWCC 24
Case summary:

Practice and procedure – onus of proof – matter previously not in issue – defendant raising issue during trial – onus on defendant
 

Practice and procedure – parties – trust – action brought in name of trust – not necessary for names of trustees to be listed unless defendant so requests

Headnote and holding:

The trustees of a home for the care and rehabilitation of physically impaired people decided, for financial reasons, that the home should be closed and the respondents, who were inmates at the home, should be moved to other establishments. A few years later, the trustees decided that the home should be sold. They instituted proceedings, in the name of the Trust, for an order for the eviction of the respondents. It was made clear in the declaration that the action for eviction was being brought in the name of the Trust and the averment to that effect was admitted by the respondents. Their defence was that they had a right to remain because the Trustees who admitted them to the home had assured them that they could stay as long as was necessary. They did not challenge the right of the trustees to institute the proceedings and this was not one of the issues referred to trial.

During the trial, it was suggested in cross-examination to one of the trustees that his term of office, and those of three other trustees, had expired and that their decisions were therefore invalid. The trial judge, despite the objections that this matter had not been put in issue and the validity of the decisions was not open to challenge, held that this was a question of law which could be raised at any time. The evidence showed that, though the terms of some of the trustees had expired, the terms of others had not, and that there had been a sufficient quorum in respect of one of the earlier decisions of the trustees. In respect of the later decision, the evidence was inconclusive about whether the terms of office of two trustees had expired. The trial judge found that the terms of office of the trustees who made the earlier decision had not expired, and the decision was valid. However, in respect of the later one, he ruled that the appellants bore the onus of proving that the decision was valid and that they had not discharge this onus. He ruled that the decision to initiate proceedings to evict the respondents was not valid.

On appeal, the respondents sought to impugn the validity of the proceedings in the court a quo on the ground that each trustee was not named as plaintiff in the document commencing proceedings.

Held:

(1) If the question of the fact of the expiry of the terms of office of the trustees had been properly placed before the court for determination, it had been the respondents who raised the issue of validity of the trustees’ decision, so they bore the onus of showing that the trustees’ terms of office had expired.

(2) The issue as to whether the trustees’ terms of office had expired was one of fact, not a question of law. It could only be answered by reference to facts established by evidence. The issue of whether a particular trustee had exceeded his term of office at the time a decision was made did not need an explanation of what the law was. Once a question requires a court to consider whether certain facts have been established in order to answer it, the court is to determine a question of fact.

(3) In the absence of proof by the defendants to the contrary, the court a quo was bound, in light of the admission made in the plea, to accept that the terms of office of the trustees concerned had not expired when the decision to evict the defendants from the premises was made.

(4) Rule 8A of the High Court Rules makes it clear that it is not necessary to list trustees by name when they sue on behalf of a trust. It was clear that the proceedings were instituted by the trust. The deed of trust granted the trust the power to sue and be sued. It is only where a defendant to a suit, by the trustees on behalf of the trust, has requested from the trust names and addresses of the individual trustees that the listing of the names of trustees is required.

Judgment of Uchena J in Trustees, Leonard Cheshire Homes Zimbabwe Central Trust v Chite & Ors 2010 (1) ZLR 631 (H) reversed.

Coram
Mavangira AJA

Judgment No. 24/2015

Civil Appeal No. SC 306/2010

1

 

 

THE TRUSTEES OF THE LEONARD CHESHIRE HOMES ZIMBABWE CENTRAL TRUST

v

ROBERT CHIITE & 7 ORS

 

 

 

SUPREME COURT OF ZIMBABWE

MALABA DCJ, GARWE JA & MAVANGIRA AJA

HARARE, FEBRUARY 9, 2015

 

 

 

T Magwaliba, for the appellant

T Mpofu, for the respondent

 

 

MALABA DCJ:   On the day of the hearing we allowed the appeal with costs and indicated that reasons for the decision were to be availed in due course. These are they.

 

This is an appeal against the High Court decision dismissing a claim for an order of eviction of the respondents by the appellant (hereinafter referred to as the Trust), from the premises commonly known as 85 Baines Avenue, Harare. The facts of the matter are as follows.

 

The Leonard Cheshire Home Zimbabwe Central Trust was established on 3 April 1981, by a Deed of Trust for the purposes of raising funds and to provide means for the care and rehabilitation of permanently physically impaired people. The affairs of the Trust are administered by six Trustees who are appointed in terms of clause 5 of the Trust Deed for a period of 5 years. In pursuance of the objectives of the Trust, the Trustees established a number of Homes within Harare, one of which is the Masterson Home which is located at No. 85 Baines Avenue, Harare.

 

The policy of the Trustees has been to admit into the Masterson Home a specific number of inmates at a given time, rehabilitate them and release them for integration into the community. Many permanently physically impaired persons have been rehabilitated by the Trust and have found settlement in the public thereafter without any problem.

 

At a meeting held on 12 March 1998 the Trustees decided that consideration be given to having the Masterson Home (“the Home”) closed because it had become difficult to run the institution on the stringent budget available. On 30 November 1999 a firm decision was taken by the Trustees that the Home be closed.  The proposal was that the property would be sold and part of the proceeds used to help the respondents (hereinafter referred to as Beneficiaries) to start their own income generating projects in the communities into which they would be integrated. It was also decided that those who were not ready for integration would be transferred to a home in Kambuzuma, Harare.

 

Pursuant to the decision of the Trustees to sell the Home, an assessment of the inmates was carried out in order to determine the needs that were peculiar to each of them.  The purpose of the assessment of each beneficiary’s needs was to ensure that the programme envisaged did not adversely prejudice the beneficiaries. The assessment exercise was undertaken by a consultancy firm which was mandated to look at the feasibility of the anticipated programme and make recommendations. At all material times the beneficiaries were advised of the fact that there would be a need to vacate the premises to pave way for the sale of the Home.  It was made clear to the beneficiaries that they were not going to be thrown into the streets, but that each individual’s needs would be assessed and a program of rehabilitation or integration suitable to him or her put in place. They were also advised that part of the proceeds from the sale of the property would be used to finance integration projects in the communities in which they were to be resettled. The beneficiaries were asked to indicate the types of projects they wanted to undertake.

 

The beneficiaries accepted the proposals and undertook to move out of the premises sometime in the year 2005. They later reneged from their undertaking and refused to vacate the building arguing that the Trustees who admitted them into the Home had promised to let them occupy the premises for as long as they wanted. They started denying entry into the Home to members of staff. They also let out part of the premises to medical practitioners who converted them into surgeries. Some of the rooms were let out to members of the public who used them as phone shops, tuck shops and living rooms.

 

The beneficiaries collected monthly rentals from the occupants of the rooms they let out illegally.  The Home was turned into a commercial centre. The beneficiaries did all these things without lawful authority from the Trustees.  The actions were against the spirit of the Trust. The premises were not maintained causing deterioration in the state of repair of the building and the general health conditions.

 

On 26 July 2004, a decision was taken by the Trustees to sell the Home.  On 2 August 2004 the Trustees instituted proceedings, in the name of the Trust, for an order of eviction against the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries opposed the action.  The Trustees made it clear in the declaration that the action for eviction was being brought on behalf of the Trust. The averment is contained in para. 13 of the declaration which reads as follows:

“13. All the defendants are beneficiaries of the Leonard Cheshire Homes Zimbabwe Central Trust, a trust duly registered, whose trustees are the Plaintiffs. The Defendants all occupy the apartments at the property referred to in paragraph 11 (above) in their capacity as beneficiaries of the trust.” (My emphasis)

 

 

In their plea, the beneficiaries admitted the averment made by the Trustees that the eviction proceedings were instituted in the name of the Trust by the Trustees who had authority to do so.  In para. 1 of the plea which addressed the averments in paras. 1– 13 of the declaration, the beneficiaries stated as follows:

“1. Ad Para 1 – 13

This is admitted.”

 

The substance of the defence by the beneficiaries to the claim by the Trustees was that they had a right to continued occupation of      the premises.  They alleged that the Trustees who admitted them to the Home had assured them that they would stay at the institution for as long as it was necessary. Their defence did not challenge the right of the Trustees to institute proceedings for their eviction from the premises. The locus standi of the Trustees in the proceedings was not an issue between the parties.  The issues that were referred to trial were:

  1. Whether Plaintiff has failed to provide Defendants with the assistance and support set out in paragraph 3 (i) (a) of the Trust Deed?
  2. Whether the Defendants are entitled to remain in occupation of the property?
  3. If the answer to (ii) is No, whether Plaintiff is entitled to an order evicting the Defendants from the property?

 

 

At the hearing the plaintiff called one B Chikwanha as a witness.  When he was being cross examined by Mr Mehta for the defendants, it was put to him that his term of office and terms of office of Mr Gomwe, Mr Mills and Mr Hungwe had expired at the time the decisions to evict the defendants and sell the Home were made. Mr Mehta suggested that the decisions were invalid. Mr Magwaliba who represented the Trustees objected to the line of cross examination on the ground that it raised a question of fact of the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees. Mr Magwaliba argued that the matter of expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees had not been put in issue in the pleadings.  He indicated that in light of the admission made by the defendants that those who instituted the proceedings were Trustees of the plaintiff it was not open to Mr Mehta to challenge the validity of the decisions made by the Trustees on the allegation that their terms of office had expired at the time the decisions were made.

 

The learned Judge took the view that the question of the expiry of the tenures of office of the Trustees had a bearing on the validity of the decisions that were made in respect of the closure of the Home on 30 November 1999 and 26 July 2004.  He ruled that the issue was a question of law which the defendants could raise at any time during the proceedings and as a result overruled the objection by Mr Magwaliba.  Mr Mehta was allowed to cross examine Mr Chikwanha on the alleged expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees who made the respective decisions.  The evidence showed that although the terms of office of some of the Trustees who made the decision of 30 November 1999 had expired, the number of Trustees whose terms of office had not expired formed a quorum in terms of clause 5 of the Deed of Trust.  In respect of the decision made on the 26 July 2004 the evidence was not conclusive as to whether the terms of office of Mr Mills and Mr Muzondo had expired. The fact that the evidence was inconclusive did not justify a finding that the terms of office of the Trustees had expired.

 

As to the other Trustees the evidence suggested that their terms of office had not expired.  Mr Choto was appointed in 2004.   The evidence suggested that Mr Muzondo could have been appointed on 9 February 2004. There was no evidence to suggest that he had already been appointed Trustee prior to that date. The evidence also suggested that Mr Mills would not have been a Trustee before 30 of November 1999.  That meant he could not have been appointed before that date. The terms of office of Mills, Muzondo and Choto were current on 26 July 2004, when the decision to evict the beneficiaries was made.

 

When the learned Judge made the decision on the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees, he had considered the matter to be a question of law.  He however found as a matter of fact that the terms of office of the Trustees, who made the decision of 30 November 1999, had not expired.  On the basis of that evidence the learned Judge found that the decision of 30 November 2004 was valid.  The learned Judge also held that there was inconclusive evidence on the question of expiry of the terms of office of Mr Mills and Muzondo.

 

The learned Judge held that the plaintiff bore the onus of proving that the decision taken on the 26 July 2004 was valid.  As a result he held that the plaintiff had not discharged the evidential burden of establishing the facts on which the question of invalidity of the decision could be made.  The learned Judge misplaced the evidential onus on the plaintiff because he misunderstood the content of the matter in issue.  The question to be decided was whether the decision was invalid.  It was the defendants who raised the question of the invalidity of the decision of 26 July 2004.  They bore the burden of producing evidence to prove the facts of the expired terms of office of the Trustees on which the question of invalidity of the decision could be determined.

 

The learned Judge determined that the decision made by the Trustees on 26 July 2004 to evict the beneficiaries was invalid. The plaintiff’s case was dismissed with costs. Aggrieved by the decision of the court a quo, the appellants noted the appeal on the following grounds:

  1. That the court a quo misdirected itself in finding that the issue whether the Appellants had exceeded their five year terms in terms of Clause 5 (c) of the Deed of Trust was a question of law as opposed to an issue of fact.
  2. The court a quo further fundamentally misdirected itself in allowing the respondents to raise the new issue which was not pleaded in their pleadings with the first witness for the Appellant. The court a quo therefore erred in over – ruling the appellant’s objection to the respondents’ raising of a new defence at the trial.
  3. The court a quo further misdirected itself in finding that the appellant had the onus to prove that the Trustees had not exceeded their five year terms and were therefore entitled to make a resolution for the ejectment of the respondents thereby making the appellant liable to prove the respondents’ new defence.
  4. The court a quo further erred in making findings of fact on the question of whether the Trustees had exceeded the five year term limit in terms of the Deed of Trust based on incomplete and inconclusive evidence led by the parties thereby contradicting an earlier finding that the issue was a point of law.
  5. The court a quo further misdirected itself in failing to find that the respondents had abandoned and not proved their pleaded defence, that is that upon being accepted as beneficiaries to the trust, they were promised to live at the premises in issue, No. 85 Baines Avenue, Harare for life or for as long as they wished.
  6. In the event therefore, the court a quo erred in dismissing the appellants claim.

 

On the question whether or not the court a quo correctly decided that the issue of the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees was a question of law, the Court holds that the decision was wrong. The question was a question of fact which could only be answered by reference to facts established by evidence.  The court a quo would have had to ask itself the question whether or not sufficient evidence had been placed before it to prove on a balance of probabilities the facts on which it would make a finding that the terms of office of the Trustees had expired. The court would not have gone into the question of evidence on the expiry of the terms of the Trustees to answer a question of law. The law on the matter was clear in that a Trustee could only serve a term of 5 years. The issue of whether a particular Trustee had exceeded his term of office at the time a decision was made did not need an explanation of what the law was.  Once a question requires a court to consider whether certain facts have been established in order to answer it, the court is to determine a question of fact.

The court a quo appears to have appreciated the position when it determined the question whether the decision of 30 November 1999 was valid or not. To arrive at that decision it analysed the evidence led on the terms of office of the Trustees concerned and concluded that, the fact of the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees who constituted a quorum had not been proved. That was a contradictory position taken by the court if the question whether the terms of office of the Trustees had expired was a question of law.  The same goes for the question whether the decision to sell the Home taken on 26 July 2004 was valid. The court a quo found itself having to go into the evidence of the fact of the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees. It came to the conclusion that there was no sufficient evidence to prove whether or not the terms of office of Mr Mills and Mr Muzondo had expired.

 

The court erroneously placed the evidential burden on the plaintiff when it was the defendants who had raised the issue of the expiry of tenure of office of the Trustees. If the question of the fact of the expiry of the terms of office of the Trustees had been properly placed before the court for determination, the onus would have been on the defendants who made the allegations.

 

The finding by the court a quo on the inconclusiveness of the evidence on the expiry or otherwise of the terms of office of Mr Mills and Mr Muzondo, was wrong. The evidence showed that when the decision to evict the respondents was made, Mr Muzondo had served 3 years as a Trustee.  Under cross examination, Mr Chikwanha explained that Mr Muzondo was appointed in February 2004.   To say the evidence was inconclusive when there was no evidence to contradict what Mr Chikwanha said was a misdirection. The evidence showed that Mr Mills could not have been in office before 30 November 1999. In the absence of proof by the defendants to the contrary, the court a quo was bound, in light of the admission made in the plea, to accept that the terms of office of the Trustees concerned had not expired when the decision to evict the defendants from the premises was made on 26 July 2004.

 

Mr Mpofu sought to impugn the validity of the proceedings in the court a quo on the ground that each Trustee was not named as plaintiff in the document commencing proceedings.

 

On the issue of the failure to cite as plaintiff, each Trustee by name in the document commencing the proceedings, Mr Magwaliba made reference to the High Court Rules, 1971.  The effect of r 8A of Order 2A is that it is not necessary to list Trustees by name when they sue on behalf of a Trust. It is clear that the proceedings were instituted by the Trust. The Deed of Trust grants the Trust the power to sue and be sued.  The respondents had challenged the locus standi of the Trustees to sue on behalf of the Trust.

 

The relevant rules provide as follows:

“ORDER 2A

PROCEEDINGS BY OR AGAINST ASSOCIATIONS, ETC

 

7. Interpretation in Order 2A

In this Order—

“associate”, in relation to—

(a) a trust, means a trustee;

(b) an association other than a trust, means a member of the association;

“association” includes—

(a) a trust; and

(b) a partnership, a syndicate, a club or any other association of persons which is not a body corporate.

8. Proceedings by or against associations

Subject to this Order, associates may sue and be sued in the name of their association.

8A. Naming of associates

(1) In any proceedings to which an association is a party, any other party may, by written notice to the association, require a statement of the names and places of residence of the persons who were the association’s associates at the time the cause of action accrued.

(2) A person who receives a notice in terms of subrule (1) shall, within five days after receiving it—

(a) furnish the party concerned with a written statement containing the required information; and

(b) file a copy of the written statement with the registrar; and the proceedings shall continue in the same manner, and the same consequences shall follow, as if the associates had been named in the summons or notice commencing the proceedings:

Provided that the proceedings shall continue in the name of the association except where a writ of civil imprisonment is sought against an associate, in which event the associate shall be specifically named in the civil imprisonment proceedings.

 

A proper reading of the provisions of r 8A of the High Court Rules establishes that it is not a requirement for the names of Trustees to be listed when they bring an action on behalf of the Trust.   The only place where the issue of the listing of the names of Trustees when an action has been instituted on behalf of the Trust is where a defendant to a suit by the Trustees on behalf of the Trust, has requested from the Trust names and addresses of the individual Trustees. This would be in line with r 8A (1) of the High Court Rules, 1971.

 

                        It was for these reasons that the Court found that the decision of the court a quo could not stand and accordingly allowed the appeal with costs.

 

 

                        GARWE JA:                         I agree

 

 

                        MAVANGIRA AJA:                        I agree

 

 

Magwaliba and Kwirira, appellants’ legal practitioners

Lawman Chimuriwo Attorneys At Law, respondent’s legal practitioners