Commentary by Chanda Cbungu
Full Case Can be Found HERE
The appellant in the case, Hans Lorenz, (hereinafter referred to as the “Appellant”) was a holder of a temporary self-employment permit. The Appellant purchased a motor vehicle in June 2004 and was granted a Customs Importation Permit (hereinafter referred to as the “customs permit”) valid for a period of 3 months. The Zambia Revenue Authority (hereinafter referred to the “Respondent”) confiscated the motor vehicle pending investigations that the appellant misrepresented his immigration status in the Republic of Zambia. The respondent subsequently found that the appellant did not qualify for a customs permit as he held an employment permit and the customs permit was only available to visitors. On 24th March 2005, the motor vehicle was released with the Respondent ordering that it exit Zambia within five (5) days.
The appellant instituted a claim in the High Court. He alleged that the seizure was unlawful and claimed damages, consequential damages and interest. The High court found that the appellant failed to prove that the respondent’s seizure of the motor vehicle was unlawful and illegal. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.
- The Appellant’s claims
The appellant had three grounds of appeal. These were that the High court judge erred in law and fact when it: –
- Took into account the Defense’s assertions without evidentiary support;
- Failed to take into consideration the validity of the customs permit; and
- Held that the appellant’s car was seized because it did not leave Zambia within the authorized period.
THE LEGAL ISSUES
The two main legal issues faced by the court were as follows:
- Can a customs permit that was issued by mistake be valid?
- Can a court rely on the contents of pleadings that are not directly referred to as evidence in trial proceedings?
The court held that the appellant was not truthful about his immigration status. The court held further that because the appellant held an employment permit, had he conveyed his correct status, he would not have been issued a customs permit to import the car. The fact that the appellant was granted a gate pass to ensure that the car exited Zambia within 5 days did not mean that the appellant was entitled to a customs permit, because a permit issued in error can never be valid. If a customs permit is issued by mistake, the party cannot rely on the validity of the permit.
In relation to the second legal issue, the court relied on the case of Mundia v Senator Motors to hold that parties to a case are bound to their pleadings and once an issue is settled in pleadings, the court will accept it as it has been pleaded. The court was emphatic in holding that a court of law can rely on the substance of pleaded documents that are not referred to directly as evidence in trial proceedings provided that they are contained in the bundle of documents.
This case is significant because it confirms that parties are bound to their pleadings and a court can use and make reference to anything contained in the bundle of documents and pleadings. It does not matter whether or not the party made direct reference to the contents of the pleaded documents as evidence in trial proceedings; the court can still rely on the content of the pleadings submitted to the court.
Additionally, a permit issued in error cannot be valid and the party who received the permit cannot rely on its validity in such a case.