Obiter : opinion on Lazarides judgement

Items of historical interest.

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Obiter : opinion on Lazarides judgement

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2008-03-07 07:49

Lazarides v The Chairman of the Firearms Appeal Board
2005 JDR 0584 (T)

1 Introduction

No person may possess a firearm unless he holds a licence issued by the
Commissioner of Police {Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (s 3); (now
repealed) Arms and Ammunition Act 75 of 1969 (s 2)). Where an application
for a licence is refused, the applicant may appeal to the Appeal Board
(Firearms Control Act (s 133)). Under the Arms and Ammunition Act the
appeal lay to the Minister of Law and Order, who could delegate this
function to the Appeal Board (s 3(2) read with s 14A and 44(1)).

The applicant in the Lazarides case applied for the review and setting
aside of a refusal of a firearm licence. It is not clear from the judgment
who all the respondents were. It appears that the Appeal Board (FAB) was
the second respondent, the Central Firearms Registrar (sic) (CFR) the
fourth respondent (being a department within the police which is
responsible for the administration of firearm licences), and the Deputy
Minister of Safety and Security the fifth respondent. It is likely that the
other two respondents were the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of
Safety and Security. The references to the parties in the judgment are
somewhat confusing.

The application for the licence had been made under the Arms and Ammunition
Act 75 of 1969 which was then still in operation. The Firearms Control Act
60 of 2000 subsequently replaced the 1969 Act on 1 July 2004 (see South
African Gun Owners Association v State President of the Republic of South
Africa (TPD) 2004-06-30 case number 16620104 and the discussion by Van der
Berg "The Role of National and International Sportshooting, Hunting and
Collectors Organisations in Terms of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000"
2004 25(2) Obiter 468. The intention with the adoption of the 2000 Act was
to control firearms more comprehensively and effectively (see long title of
the 2000 Act), and further, to give effect to South Africa's international
obligations in terms of the United Nations' Convention against
Transnational Organised Crime; see in this regard Vrancken and Van der Berg
"The South African Regulation of the Conveyance of Munitions at Sea" 2005
30 SAYIL 147).

The judgment was marked not reportable. That is both strange and
regrettable in view of the public and academic interest in the topic of
firearm licensing (to the extent that a number of organisations
representing large numbers of individuals unsuccessfully applied to
interdict the new (2000) Act from coming into operation; see Van der Berg
2004 Obiter 468; see also Carnelley and Van der Berg "Reasons for Refusal
of Firearm Licences" 2003 Obiter 555 and Vrancken and Van der Berg 2005 30
SAYIL 147, as well as numerous reports in the news and popular media).
There is a lack of reported case law on the subject. Very little
information has been forthcoming from the state authorities as regards
considerations taken into account by the state authorities in the
determination of applications for firearm licences. This leaves the public
and the legal fraternity to a large extent in the dark regarding the
prospects of success of firearm licence applications. It is almost
impossible to judge when an application for a firearm licence is likely to
be successful, and when not. It would be in the public interest to report
whatever court decisions become available on the topic. (The judgment has
since also been reported at 2006 1 All SA 396 (T).)

In assessing licence applications, the CFR and the FAB, as organs of state
(s 239 of the 1996 Constitution), must adhere not only to the legislation,
but also to constitutional principles, specifically the right to just
administrative action ((s 33 as read with s 8(1) of the Constitution and as
developed by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA)).

The aim of this note is to evaluate the judgment in light of all the facts,
the legislation, the constitutional principles and the doctrine of judicial
deference upon which the court based its final decision.

2 Lazarides V Chairman of the Firearms Appeal Board

References to the pages of the judgment are included in brackets ( ).

2.1 The facts

During 2003 the applicant applied for a licence for a .50 Browning calibre
Musgrave rifle. When the applicant applied for the licence, the Arms and
Ammunition Act 75 of 1969 was still in operation and the matter therefore
fell to be decided in terms of the 1969 Act. The applicant applied for the
licence on the basis that he was a registered collector of guns of a
military nature. He possessed 73 licences for firearms (2). His collection
included machine guns (3).
As regards collectors of firearms, see generally section 43(1 )(kA) of the
1969 Act and regulations 1 (ii) and 20 to 26 of the regulations made in
terms of the Act (R787 in GG 15652 of 1994-04-22); and see also Van der
Berg (2004 Obiter 468). A number such as 73 firearms is not unusual for a
firearms collector - a private collection might easily exceed that number
substantially - and is usually taken to be indicative thereof that the
person is a "serious" collector of firearms, taking into account the
investment in money, time and effort that such a collection requires.

The CFR refused the licence "due to insufficient flack of motivation and
the firearm does not fit into your collection" (sic) (2).

The applicant then lodged an appeal against the refusal to the FAB. The FAB
refused the appeal as it regarded it as inadvisable for reasons of the
safety and security of the people in South Africa, that firearms such as
that under consideration be made available to private individuals. In this
regard the FAB agreed with directives expressed by the Deputy Minister for
Safety and Security in February 2002. The Deputy Minister approved of the
contents of an information note submitted to him by the National
Commissioner of Police to the effect that civilians not be permitted to own
.50BMG calibre rifles. The reasons were safety-related, as such firearms
have an accurate range of 1200 metres and can penetrate 40 millimetre
armour plate. In correspondence subsequent to the appeal, the FAB stated
that civilians were not statutorily prohibited from possessing such
firearms. It also did not regard the applicant as a threat to the country

2.2 The Arguments for the Applicant

2.2.1 Ultra vires

The applicant argued that the FAB erred in considering the policy
directive, as neither the Commissioner of Police nor the Deputy Minister of
Safety and Security were permitted in terms of the Act to make such
decisions. The directive effectively prohibited the licensing of such
calibre firearms. In terms of the legislation only the Minister could
declare a particular firearm prohibited and he could only do so by
promulgation of the prohibition in terms of the statute (4). The FAB, the
CFR as well as the Minister (sic presumably the Deputy Minister) of Safety
and Security thus overstepped their authority by introducing a prohibitive
policy, an exclusive prerogative of the Minister (9). In acting as it did,
the Board effectively usurped the functions of the Minister (5). It
effectively banned the issuing of a licence without following the
prescribed procedure. As the Minister had not advertised the banning of the
firearm in the Government Gazette, the directive was fatally flawed (9).
(It is interesting to note that in terms of the 2000 Act, only Parliament
can prohibit a specified firearm (s 4(3)(a) of Act 60 of 2000).)

2.2.2 Failure to apply mind and acting capriciously

The applicant further submitted that the Commissioner did not apply his
mind to the issue when refusing the licence, and thus acted capriciously.
Apart from usurping the functions of the Minister, as mentioned above - by
adhering to the directive, the FAB acted arbitrarily as it merely endorsed
the CFR's refusal without applying its mind to the matter. This is borne
out by the fact that the applicant had been given an import permit and
licence for a .55 anti-tank Boys rifle, which was a bigger calibre and a
more powerful firearm than the .50 Browning for which a licence was being
sought. The refusal by the FAB accordingly did not make sense (5 and 8).

2.2.3 Prejudice as a collector

The applicant claimed that he suffered prejudice as a collector because of
the refusal of the licence as the firearm was a "collector's piece". The
CFR's reasons for declining the licence, were "due to insufficient/lack of
motivation and .the firearm does not fit into [the applicant's]
collection". The refusal deprived the applicant of his right as a collector
with regard to a firearm that was no longer being manufactured. Musgrave
used to be a South African firearms manufacturer, but was no longer in
existence. The firearm would therefore .never again be manufactured. The
firearm's value was likely to increase In future because of its scarcity.
The firearm was unique and it made it a valuable acquisition for a
collector (3, 8 and 9).

2.3 The Arguments for the Respondent Lack of specific grounds for appeal

2.3.1 The respondents submitted that the application should be dismissed
as the notice of appeal (to the FAB) did not disclose specific grounds
relating to how the FAB had erred. The applicant merely made generalised
statements such as that the Board had acted capriciously without stating in
what respects It was capricIous. Such allegations were thus conclusions and
not facts that the applicant could substantiate (5).

2.3.2 Failed to show prejudice

The respondents further argued that the applicant bore the onus to show
that he had been prejudiced by the decision under review and that the
applicant had not succeeded in showing that he had suffered prejudice as a
result of the refusal of the licence (5).

2.3.3 Requirement of procedural irregularities not met

The third argument of the respondents was that in review proceedings, the
applicant had to show that procedural irregularities had occurred. In casu
the applicant relied upon the FAB's decision being incorrect in law, but
that was not a ground for review according to Swissborough Diamond Mines
(Pty) Ltd v Government of the Republic of South Africa 1999 2 SA 279 (T)
323G and Die Dros (Pty) Ltd v Telefon Beverages CC 2003 4 SA 207 (C) 217
par 28 (5).

2.4 The Judgment

The court cited the following principles relating to judicial review from
Davies v Chairman, Committee of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (1991 4 SA
43 (W) 46F-48G):

"(1) The conduct of a statutory body exercising quasi-judicial functions is
subject to review by the Supreme Court.

(2) The issue before a court on review is not the correctness or otherwise
of the decision under review. Unlike the position in an appeal, a court of
review will not enter into, and has no jurisdiction to express an opinion
on, the merits of an administrative finding of a statutory tribunal or
official, for a review does not as a rule import the idea of a
reconsideration of the decision of the body under review.

(3) The remarks of Innes CJ in Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Co v,
Johannesburg Town Council continue to apply.

(4) A court has limited jurisdiction in review proceedings and supervises
administrative action in appropriate ,cases on the basis of 'gross

(5) There is no onus on the body whose conduct is the subject matter of
review to justify its conduct. On the contrary, the onus rests upon the
applicant for review to satisfy the court that good grounds exists to
review the conduct complaint (sic) of ..

(6) The rules relating to judicial proceedings do not necessarily apply to
quasi-judicial proceedings.

(7) The body whose conduct is under review is entitled, subject to its own
rules, to determine the rules of procedure it will follow.

(8) The rules of natural justice do not require a domestic tribunal to
apply technical rules of evidence observed in a court of law, to hear
witnesses orally, to permit the person charged to be legally represented,
or to call witnesses or to cross-examine witnesses.

(9) A court on review is concerned with irregularities or illegalities in
the proceedings which may go to show that there has been 'a failure of
justice'" (5-7).

The court further quoted from Bester v Easigas (Pty) Limited (1993 1 SA 30
(C) 421) wherein Brand AJ stated that:

"From these authorities it appears, firstly, that the ground of review
envisaged by the use of this phrase relates to the conduct of the
proceedings and not to the result thereof. This appears clearly from the
following dictum of Mason J in Ellis v Morgan; and Ellis v Dessai 1909 TS
576 at 518: 'But an irregularity in the proceedings does not mean an
incorrect judgment; it refers not to the result but to the method of the
trial. such as, for example, some high-handed or mistaken action which has
prevented the aggrieved party from having his case fully and fairly
determined'" (7).

In this regard the court further referred to R v Zackey (1945 AD 505 509),
and held that a mere possibility of prejudice not of a serious nature will
not justify interference by a superior court (7).

The court was of the view that the fact that the applicant had been granted
a licence for a more powerful firearm than the one applied for, did not
hold credence. This argument would imply that the Commissioner is duty
bound to issue every licence the applicant would apply for in view of him
having been given a licence for a higher (sic) calibre firearm. The
Commissioner had to apply his discretion to each and every application made
by a person _ whether that person applied for a first licence or for the
seventy-fourth one. The fact that a licence had been granted for an
automatic weapon, did not mean that the Commissioner had to issue a licence
where a person applies for his next or subsequent automatic weapon licence.
If this were the case, the Commissioner, once having issued more than one
licence to an applicant, would merely be rubber-stamping subsequent
applications. In doing so, he would not be applying his discretion. That in
itself would be an irregularity or a possible dereliction of duty (8).

With regard to the applicant's argument that the Commissioner, the FAB and
the Minister (presumably Deputy Minister) overstepped their authority by
effectively banning a firearm without the proper procedure, the court
referred to the competing interests apart from that of applicant. In
exercising his discretion to grant or refuse a firearm licence, the
Commissioner had to look at other competing interests apart from that of
the applicant. He had to consider the applicant's interest together with
the interest of society and the norms and values of the community. In this
regard the court referred to Minister of Safety and Security v Van
Duivenboden (2002 6 SA 431 (SCA) 446H-447G). The Commissioner's refusal
letter to the applicant stated that the application was refused due to
insufficient/lack of motivation and that the firearm does not fit into the
applicant's collection (9).

According to the court, the refusal should be interpreted to mean that the'
applicant had a licence for a .55 BSA Boys Rifle. He therefore did not need
a licence for a similar gun in his collection. The court concluded that the
licence was not refused because it was statutorily prohibited to
individuals, nor because the applicant was considered a person who was a
threat or danger to the Republic of South Africa, but for the above reasons

The court further noted that the Appeal Board refused the licence as, in
the exercise of its discretion, it regarded it to be inadvisable that a
firearm of that nature should be made available to private individuals,
Relying on the Davies case, the court held that a court of review does not
have to consider the correctness of the decision of the Appeal Board. A
review court "will not enter into, and has no jurisdiction to express an
opinion on, the merits of an administrative finding of a statutory tribunal
or official" (10).

As regards the applicant's submission that the Promotion of Administrative
Justice Act 3 of 2000 was applicable to the proceedings, the Court referred
to O'Regan J's statement in Bato Star Fishing (pty) Ltd v Minister of
Environmental Affairs (2004 4 SA 490 (CC) 513):

"In the SCA Schutz JA held that this was a case which calls for judicial
deference. In explaining deference he cited with approval Prof Hoexter's
account as follows:

'(A) judicial willingness to appreciate the legitimate and conditionally
ordained province of administrative agencies, to admit the expertise of
those agencies in policy-laden or polycentric issues to accord the
interpretation of fact and law due respect. and to be sensitive in general
to the interest legitimately pursued by administrative bodies and the
practical and financial constraints under which they operate. This type of
deference is perfectly consistent with a concern for individual rights and
the refusal to tolerate corruption and maladministration. It ought to be
shaped not by an unwillingness to scrutinize administrative action, but by
carefully weighing up the need for - and consequences of .- judicial
intervention. Above all it ought to be shaped by conscious determinatlon
not to usurp the functions of administrative agencies, not to cross over
from review to appeal'" (10-11).

Lastly, the court furter referred to Schultz JA's statement that judicial
deference does not imply timidity or unreadlness to perform the Judlclal
function, and agreed that the use of the word "deference" may give rise to
misunderstanding as to the true function of a review court. The need for
courts to treat decision-makers with appropriate deference or respect does
flow not from judicial courtesy or etiquette, but from the constitutional
principle of separation of powers itself (11).

The court accordingly dismissed the application with costs (11).

3 Discussion

3.1 Introduction

A few preliminary explanations are appropriate for those not au fait with
firearms. Firstly, the application was for a licence for a .50 Browning
calibre Musgrave rifle. The calibre of a firearm is designated by the
nominal diameter of the bullet (that is the projectile) - In this case .50
indicates half an inch; the calibre is frequently further identified by a
suffix, In this case "Browning", referring to John Moses Browning, a
prolific firearms designer at the turn of the 19th/20th century, widely
regarded as the most talented of his time, at least in the Western world.
Several of his designs are still In use, 100 years later. The more usual
denomination for the. cartridge is .50 BMG, referring to Browning machine
gun, that being its original application. A rifle is, of course, not a
machine gun. Ammunition may be capable of utilisation in a machine gun
(capable of sustained, automatic fire) or simply by way of single shots
such as that in a suitable chambered rifle (In casu manufactured by
Musgrave, a now defunct South African manufacturer). A notable
characteristic of the .50 BMG cartridge, more recently discovered, is its
accuracy, in a suitably designed rifle, over long distance (for a rifle), a
feature that has both military and sporting (long distance target shooting)
application. It is, however, not unique in that respect. there are a
variety of cartridges, many of them ordinary hunting and sporting (target
shooting) cartridges, that are accurate over substantially similar
dlstances, or approximating such distances. Further, the armour plercing
capability of a "calibre", is not a function of the calibre, but of the
construction of the .bullet, or projectile. So, therefore, ammunition is
only "armour. piercing" if it is loaded with armour piercing projectiles.
.50 BMG ammunition may therefore contain armour piercing projectiles, or
projectiles that are not armour piercing. The firearm, as such, can
therefore not be described as "armour piercing". Any objection by the state
authorities in this regard, must therefore relate to the specific
projectile, and not the firearm, or even "ordinary", non-armour piercing

Secondly, it is estimated (the lack of statistics published by the Central
Firearms Registry is well-known) that there are approximately 2 000
collectors of firearms in South Africa. Of these it is estimated that only
about 1 % can be described as serious collectors of arms of war (which
would include firearms capable of sustained automatic fire). It appears
from the judgment that the applicant falls in this category. Accordingly,
when reference is made to "civilians in this country possessing a .50 BMG
rifle" one must take cognisance of exactly how small or large a number of
civilians that would be.

Thirdly, both the Arms and Ammunition Act, and the Firearms Control Act,
recognise and provide for the status of collectors, and the fact that some
collectors (and, amongst civilians, only such collectors, have access to
certain firearms (s 43(1 )(kA) of the Arms and Ammunition Act; s 17 of the
Firearms Control Act, and the regulations made under both Acts)).

It is true that it is not only a limited number of serious collectors who
might be interested in acquiring licences for a firearm such as a .50 BMG
Musgrave rifle. The only other category of civilians who might desire or
justify a licence for such firearms, are dedicated sports persons (s 16 of
the 2000 Act) for purposes of long range target shooting. The number of
such, sports shooters are for various reasons likely to be similarly
limited, for reasons such as cost and practicality. In any event the
discretionary powers of the Commissioner, properly exercised within the
constraints prescribed by the legislation, generously (as it is intended
to) provide for the assurance that South Africa will not suddenly become
awash with long range armour piercing machines of war, originating from
collectors or dedicated sports shooters - these being the only categories
of civilians likely under any circumstances to qualify for such licences.

In the last place, the .55 anti-tank Boys rifle, whilst it may be described
as having a broadly similar anti-vehicular application in military terms to
the .50 BMG, is not at all sufficiently similar to justify in reason a
conclusion that a .50 BMG rifle in the same collection would constitute a
duplication in the collection. Both the cartridge, and the firearm, are
sufficiently dissimilar. This is a question of fact, and not of policy.

3.2 Scope of the discussion

The aim of this note is to assess the decisions of the state organs being
the respondents in the case as well as the judgment in the case in light of
the constitutional duty of just administrative action. In terms of section
33(1) of the 1996 Constitution, "everyone has the right to administrative
action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair". This section must
be read with the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA)
enacted to give effect to these rights. This right, like any other in the
Bill of Rights, may only be limited in terms of a law of general
application and to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and
justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity,
equality and freedom (Constitution (s 36(1)).

Any decision taken by either the CFR or the FAB must thus be: firstly,
lawful; secondly, reasonable; and thirdly, procedurally fair. Procedural
fairness is not at issue in casu and is disregarded for purposes of this
note, except to observe that the argument by the respondent that the
applicant had to show a procedural irregularity to succeed, was clearly
ill-conceived in light of the provisions of PAJA discussed below.
Lawfulness and reasonableness are clearly also grounds for review by a court.

3.3 Lawfulness of the decision - general observations

Regarding lawfulness, section 6(2) of PAJA, by giving legislative form and
detail to section 33 of the Constitution, sets out the power of the courts
to review administrative actions (Currie and Klaaren The Promotion of
Administrative Justice Act Benchbook 1-2). The definition of administrative
action in PAJA includes a decision to refuse a licence (s 1 (v)(c)).

It is noteworthy that the court, having referred to the above statute, does
not appear to give further consideration to the section (at least not any
consideration that can be gleaned from reading the judgment) at all. In
fact, it reverts to the pre-Constitution decisions in deciding the matter.
The omission of a re-assessment of the pre-Constitution decisions is
disappointing. From the pool of available cases reported since 1994, it is
clear that the powers of reviewing courts are much wider and comprehensive
in the post-Constitution era than they were before. Without such a
re-assessment, the court's reference to the Davies case is unfortunate. The
matter is now regulated by PAJA. The approach of the court is somewhat
ironic, given the court's reference to Bato Star Fishing (Pty) Ltd v
Minister of Environmental Affairs (2004 4 SA 490 (CC)) wherein the
Constitutional Court held "that the provisions of section 6 of PAJA
divulged a clear purpose to codify the grounds of judicial review of
administrative action as defined in PAJA. The cause of action for the
judicial review of administrative action now ordinarily arose from PAJA,
not from the common law as in the past. And the authority of PAJA to ground
such causes of action rested squarely on the Constitution. Since PAJA gave
effect to s 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108
of 1996 (the Constitution), matters relating to the interpretation and
application of PAJA would of course be constitutional matters". In Bato the
court found that the case could not be decided without reference to PAJA.
To the extent, therefore, that neither the High Court nor the SCA
considered the claims made by the applicant (in Bato) in the context of
PAJA, they had erred (par 25 and 26). The same applies to the Lazarides
matter. The court has erred not to consider the issues in casu in light of
the PAJA.

Again, in the words of the Constitutional Court in the Bata matter:
"[A]lthough the review functions of the court now had a substantive as well
as a procedural ingredient, the distinction between appeals and reviews
continued to be significant. The court should take care not to usurp the
functions of administrative agencies. Its task was to ensure that the
decisions taken by administrative agencies fell within the bounds of
reasonableness as required by the Constitution" (par 45).

Section 6(2) of the PAJA is included in full for ease of reference:

"A court ... has the power to judicially review an administrative action
if(a) the administrator who took it-

(i) was not authorised to do so by the empowering provision: .

(ii) acted under a delegation of power which was not authorised by the
empowering provIsion; or

(iii) was biased or reasonably suspected of bias;

(b) a mandatory and material procedure or condition prescribed by an
empowering provision was not complied with;

(c) the ,action was procedurally unfair;

(d) the action was materially influenced by an error of law; (e) the action
was taken -

(i) for a reason not authorised by the empowering provision; (ii) for an
ulterior purpose or motive;

(iii) because irrelevant considerations were taken into account or relevant
considerations were not considered;

(iv) because of the unauthorised or unwarranted dictates of another person
or body;

(v) in bad faith; or

(vi) arbitrarily or capriciously;

(f) the action itself -

(i) contravenes a law or is not authorised by the empowering provision;
(ii) is not rationally connected to-

(aa) the purpose for which it was taken;

(bb) the purpose of the empowering provision; (cc) the information before
the administrator; or (dd) the reasons given for it by the administrator;

(g) the action concerned consists of a failure to take a decision;

(h) the exercise of the power of the performance of the function authorised
by the empowering provision, In pursuance of which the administrative
action was purportedly taken, is so unreasonable that no reasonable person
could have so exercised the power or performed the function; or

(i) the action is otherwise unconstitutional or unlawful."

3.4 Onus

The respondent argued that the onus was on the applicant to show that he
had been prejudiced by the decision under review and that the applicant had
not succeeded In showing that he had suffered prejudice as a result of the
refusal of the licence. The onus of proving the facts that constitute an
illegality ordinarily rests on the applicant as he alleges the illegality
(Hoexter The New Constitutional and Administrative Law Volume II:
Administrative Law 289). Where a prima facie case of illegality has been
made out, the onus shifts to the respondent authority to refute the
existence of the illegality (Hoexter 289; De Ville JR Judicial Review of
Administrative Action in South Africa (2003) 446; and Burns and Beukes
Administrative Law under the 1996 Constitution 3ed (2006) 500). In casu,
the applicant did not manage to make out a prima facie case (according to
the judge) of an illegality. It is submitted the applicant did make out a
prima facie case in the light of the discussion below.

3.5 Ultra vires decision to prohibit certain type of firearm

The FAB refused the licence based on its agreement 'with the Deputy
Minister's directive that civilians should not be allowed to possess such a
firearm in the calibre in question. The directive, according to the
information set out in the judgment, was based on a document submitted by
the National Commissioner and approved by the Deputy Minister.
In terms of section 33 of the Arms and Ammunition Act of 1969, under the
heading "Powers which Minister may exercise in the interests of public
safety or the maintenance of law and order or in order to prohibit or
restrict importation or possession of certain articles";

"(2) The Minister may by notice in the Gazette prohibit or restrict the
importation into the Republic or the possession or supply of any class of
arm or any part thereof, or any class of ammunition (including poisoned or
other arrows), or any article intended for use in connection with an arm,
or any article resembling an arm, or any instrument capable of being used
for propelling any substance or article, mentioned in the notice."

It is interesting to note that the section enabled the Minister to prohibit
a "class of ammunition". If in fact the problem with the firearm was one of
armour piercing capability, upon a proper application of the mind to the
exercise of the discretion, it should logically have been .50 BMG armour
piercing ammunition that should have been prohibited, and not the firearm,
or its non-armour piercing ammunition (see par 3 1 above) - leaving aside
for the moment the question of whether serious collectors of armament of
war should not in any event be entitled for proper consideration in the
exercise of the discretion (see further paragraph 3 7 and 4 below).

From this section it is clear that the prohibition or restriction falls
within the power of the Minister - a power that may only be exercised by
publication in the Government Gazette. Such power was not exercised by the
Minister with regard to the calibre firearm under consideration. On this
point alone, the applicant should have been successful.

According to the internal directive from the Deputy Minister, no firearms
of such a nature should be made available to the public. The aim and effect
of the directive is to prohibit certain firearms by circumventing, or
defeating, the process prescribed by Parliament, nor could the process be
circumvented or defeated by delegating (sub-delegating really) the power
under section 44 of the Arms and Ammunition Act, which provides for the
delegation by the Minister of powers under the Act, to the Appeal Board, or
the Commissioner, or a member of the Police. The directive was accordingly
ultra vires the statute, and unlawful.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Akani Garden Route (Pty) Ltd
v Pinnacle Point (Pty) Ltd (2001 SA 501 (SCA) par 7-9) illustrates the
point. In this matter, dealing with casino licences, the court found that a
"policy" that is laid down in terms of the legislative power may not impose
an "absolute obligation" on the authority to which a discretionary power is
given in this respect (De Ville 112 fn 176).

3.6 Rigid policy application/unauthorised dictates of another

It speaks for itself that authorities may formulate policies and guidelines
for the exercise of their discretionary powers in order to structure their
discretion and ensure equality of treatment. Such policies must however
fall within the scope of the statute and accord with the purpose of the
exercise of the powers (De Ville 112). Even if such policies are treated as
a rigid rule or a decisive factor, that would not necessarily render the
decision unlawful (De Ville 113; Burns 375-377; and the cases referred to
there). On the one hand there is judicial precedent holding that a rigid
application of a policy would be unlawful (inter alia Johannesburg Town
Council v Norman Ainstey & Co 1928 AD 335); on the other hand there are
cases that defend a blanket policy (inter alia Union of Teachers'
Association of South Africa v Minister of Education and Culture, House of
Representatives 1993 2 SA 828 (C) 836C838C). Although PAJA does not
explicitly refer to fettering of discretion by rigid policy application, it
can be accepted that such fettering is incorporated as a ground for review
under a number of possible sub-sections in section 6(2} of PAJA (De Ville
115; and Burns 375-377). A policy can at most be a guiding principle, but
may in no way be decisive by way of invariable application (Computer
Investment Group Inc v Minister of Finance 1979 1 SA 879 (T) 898).

In casu, the FAB adhered to the directive, but it is not clear from the
evidence summarised by the court in its judgment, whether the FAB applied
its mind to the facts of the application itself, or whether it merely
adopted the wording in the directive. The limited extent of the inquiry by
the court into the facts of the matter as revealed by the judgment,
unfortunately falls victim to the same criticism as with its inquiry into
the applicable sources of law, namely that the issues were deserving of
greater scrutiny. The court's interpretation that the competing interests
of society were weighed up against the interests of the applicant, seems to
be a rather more than generous interpretation of the reasons given. The
decision to follow the directive blindly would not make a difference to the
outcome of the argument if one adopts De Ville's approach that a decision
to follow a directive rigidly would not in itself render the decision
unlawful. Following the approach of Burns and the Appellate Division in the
1928 case cited above, the outcome would be different. The question is
whether such blind application of a rigid policy, would summarily in and of
itself render the action invalid.

The applicant might have argued that the respondents made their decisions
because of the unauthorised or unwarranted dictates of another person or
body - in casu, the directive from the Deputy Minister. In the case of
Leach v Secretary for Justice, Transkeian Government (19653 SA 1 (E)) an
application for a renewal of a liquor licence was refused by the Secretary
for Justice based on a resolution by the cabinet of Transkei that licences
would only be granted to Transkei citizens. The court found that the policy
of cabinet to fetter the discretion of the Secretary, was an unlawful
pandering to the dictates of another body which was not empowered to
interfere. In the current matter the directive of the Deputy Minister in
respect of the CFR and the FAB corresponds to the resolution of the cabinet
in respect of the Secretary of Justice.

3.7 Failure to apply mind/acting capriciously /competing interests

The applicant argued that the respondents failed to apply their minds and
acted capriciously. Failure to apply the mind can either refer to a
specific ground for review such as the failure to take into account all the
relevant considerations, or may constitute an umbrella phrase referring to
all grounds of review (De Ville 189). It is submitted that it could also be
taken to mean that the decision was taken because of the unauthorised and
unwarranted dictates of another person or body (s 6(2)(e}(iv) of PAJA). It
is not clear from the judgment which of the possibilities are applicable.
Presumably it refers firstly to the argument that all relevant
considerations were not taken into consideration, or irrelevant
considerations were taken into consideration, specifically the adherence to
the directive of the Deputy Minister (s 6(2)(e)(iii) of PAJA), and
secondly, to the argument that the respondents acted capriciously (s
6(2)(e)(vi) of PAJA). For a discussion on the directive, see paragraph 36

Capriciousness refers to a decision that is irrational. As we understand
the applicant's argument, the refusal of the licence was irrational as it
does not make sense to have granted an import permit and licence for a
larger and more powerful calibre (the .55 anti-tank Boys rifle) than the
one applied for, if the basis of the refusal was that it is not in the
interest of the safety of society that a civilian should possess such a
powerful calibre. The applicant is after all a collector of military
weapons and, in the words of the FAB, not a threat to the country. One can
agree with the court that the fact that the applicant had been granted a
licence for a larger calibre does not in itself place an obligation on the
Commissioner to issue a licence for the smaller calibre. However, what is
significant, is that no explanation was furnished by the respondents for
making the distinction between the two decisions - nor did the court
inquire into the reason for the distinction. In the absence of a rationale
for contradictory behaviour, one is ineluctably drawn to the conclusion
that the conduct is arbitrary. The court appears to have dealt with this
aspect of the matter too superficially, and the judgment is in this regard
not convincing. Baxter is of the view that capriciousness or arbitrariness
is ultimately a form of unreasonableness (Baxter Administrative Law (1984)
521). See further the discussion in paragraph 4 below.

The court held that, in exercising his discretion, the Commissioner had to
weigh up the interests of the applicant against the interests of society.
In the absence of a proper examination of the rationale behind the
respondents' actions, however, there can be no convincing finding in this
regard. Referring to the reasons furnished by the Commissioner for the
refusal of the licence, namely that there was an insufficient or lack of
motivation by the applicant and that the firearm does not fit into the
applicant's collection, the court held that it (the court) construed these
reasons to mean that the applicant is in possession of a .55 BSA Boys
rifle, and that the applicant therefore does not need a licence for a
similar (sic) gun for his collection. This statement appears to contain a
non sequitur. If the two firearms are indeed "similar", and the one is
already in the collection of the applicant, then, by definition, the other
does fit into the applicant's collection. The judgment does not contain
sufficient information to determine the similarity between the two
firearms, nor does it contain sufficient information regarding the
motivation furnished by the applicant in his application for the licence,
to comment on the validity of the statement that the applicant's motivation
was insufficient, or the validity of the statement that the firearm does
not fit into the collection of the applicant. In this regard, too, the
judgment is unsatisfactory.

3.8 Reasons

The obligation to provide written reasons is constitutional. With regard to
the sufficiency of reasons for refusal of firearm licences, see in general
Carnelley and Van der Berg (2003 Obiter 555). The reasons for refusal by
the CFR were dual: insufficient motivation and that the firearm does not
fit into _the collection of the applicant. Neither of these reasons were
repeated by the FAB, implying that the FAB did not agree with these
reasons. The FAB's reasons were that the issue of the licence would not be
in the interests of the safety and security of the people of South Africa.
The court did not criticise the reasons of either the Commissioner, or of
the FAB. One can conclude therefore, that the court was in agreement with
these reasons, alternatively that the court did not consider the validity
of the reasons as a result of it disinclination to enter into the
consideration of the merits of the decisions.

The differing reasons of the two bodies are not problematic per se, as the
appeal from the CFR to the FAB is an administrative appeal wherein the
merits of the first decision are appealed. The FAB is expected to step into
the shoes of the original decision-maker (CFR) and decide the matter afresh
(Hoexter 37).

If one, however, assesses the reasons themselves, the administrative action
itself (in terms of PAJA), must be rationally connected to the reasons
given for it by the administrator (s 6(2)(f)(ii)(dd)). That brings one back
to the discussion in paragraph 3 7 above.

3.9 Prejudice

The respondents' argument that the applicant had to show prejudice, can be
questioned. PAJA requires only that the administrative action must have
affected his rights and that the action must have had a direct external
legal effect (s 1 (i) of PAJA). In casu, both these requirements were met.
The aim of this provision is not to burden the court with mere academic
disputes there has to be prejudice or at least potential prejudice (De
Ville 445; and see in general the discussion by Currie and Klaaren 74-82).
It should be noted that the FAB's adherence to the directive of the Deputy
Minister does not only prejudice the applicant, but possibly other
applicants as well as it effectively means a prohibition of a licence for a
specific type of firearm by means outside the parameters of the
legislation. That is unlawful.

4 Reasonableness

Section 33(1) of the Constitution requires that administrative action must
be reasonable. One cannot assess the reasonableness of the decision without
being drawn into the merits of the matter - causing the distinction between
review and appeal to blur, with the result that the judiciary encroaches on
the terrain of the executive arm of government (Hoexter 170). The
requirement of reasonableness is linked to rationality and justifiability
(Hoexter 179). The decision need not be grossly unreasonable (Hoexter
182-183 as read with Standard Bank of Boputhatswana Ud v Reynolds NO (1995
3 SA 74 (B) 96E-H).

The concept of reasonableness features twice in the PAJA. Section
6(2)(f)(ii) of PAJA provides for review by the court where the decision
itself is "not rationally connected to: (aa) the purpose for which is was
taken; (bb) the purpose of the empowering provision; (cc) the information
before the administrator; or (dd) the reasons given for it by the
administrator". Applying these criteria to the case under consideration, it
can be accepted that the decision was rationally connected to the purpose
for which it was taken - the purpose being to deny the licence. The
decision was connected to the empowering provision - the statute gives the
relevant authorities the power to issue or deny a licence. Whether the
decision was rationally connected to the information before the FAB is,
however, open for debate as the (unlawful) directive should have been
ignored (see par 3 5 above). One can only speulate what the decision would
have been had the directive not served before the FAB. The last issue is
also moot. Is the decision of the FAB rationally connected to the reasons
given for the decision? The answer is debatable. In this regard, see the
discussion in paragraph 37 above.

In terms of section 6(2)(h) of PAJA, a court has the power to review an
administrative decision if the exercise of the power or the performance of
the function authorised by the empowering provision, in pursuance of which
the administrative action was purportedly taken, is so unreasonable that no
reasonable person could have so exercised the power or performed the
function. The question is thus whether the decision was so unreasonable? In
the absence of a proper inquiry into the rationale and the validity of the
reasons furnished by the CFA and the FAB, an appropriate conclusion cannot
be drawn. It is ironic that had these matters been properly considered, the
end result might well have been the same.

5 Judicial deference

Section 8 of PAJA provides that the court upon review of administrative
action, may grant certain orders, including the setting aside of the
decision (s 8(1 )(c)). Furthermore, it may remit the matter to the
administrator for reconsideration with or without directions (s 8(1
)(c)(i)); or, in exceptional circumstances, substitute or vary the
administrative decision (s 8(1 )(c)(ii)).

The aforementioned powers of the court must be read against the background
of the principle of judicial deference (as opposed to judicial activism),
an issue that has recently been hotly debated by academics (inter alia
Dyzenhaus "Laws as Justification: Etienne Mureinik's Conception of Legal
Culture" 1998 SAJHR 11; Govender "Administrative Justice" 1.999 SAPL 62;
Hoexter "The Future of Judicial Review in South Afncan Administrative Law"
2000 SALJ 484; Van der Walt "Sosiale Geregtigheid, Prosedurele Billikheid
en Eiendom: Alternatiewe Perspektiewe op Grondwetlike Waarborge" (Deelll)
2002 StellLR 206 337; Evans "Deference With a Difference: Of Rights,
Regulation and the Judicial Role in the Administrative Law" 2003 SALJ 322;
O'Regan "Breaking Ground: Some Thoughts on the Seismic Shift in our
Administrative Law" 2004 SALJ 424; Corder "Without Deference, With Respect:
A Response to Justice O'Regan" 2004 SALJ 438; De Ville "Deference as
Respect and Deference as Sacrifice" 2004 SAJHR 577. See also the general
discussion by De Ville Judicial Review of Administrative Action in South
Africa (2003) 21 ff).

Judicial deference is best described by Hoexter (501-502):

"[J]udicial willingness to appreciate the legitimate and
constitutionally-ordained province of administrative agencies; to admit the
agencies in policy-laden or polycentric issues; to accord their
interpretations of fact and law due respect; and to be sensitive in general
to the interests legitimately pursued by administrative bodies and the
practical and financial constraints under which they operate. This type of
deference is perfectly consistent with a concern for individual rights and
a refusal to tolerate corruption and maladministration. It ought to be
shaped not by an unwillingness to scrutinize administrative action, but by
a careful weighing up of the need for - and the consequences of judicial
intervention. Above all, it ought be shaped by a conscious determination
not to usurp the functions of administrative agencies ... "

Her view is Supported by Evans (322) and Van der Walt (228). Although
Corder (443) also largely agrees with her, he argues that although the
judges must respect the legitimate decision-making activities, they should
not give up too much of their review power at this stage. Govender (63)
proposes that a margin of appreciation be given to the administration
especially in instances where policy plays a substantial role. The Supreme
Court of Appeal in Logbro Properties CC v Beddersen NO (2003 2 SA 460 (SCA)
par 20-21) also leaned towards the principle of judicial deference, as did
the courts in Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism v Phambili
(Pty) Ltd ([2003] 2 All SA 616 (SCA) par 53); Manong & Associates v
Director-General: Department of Public Works (2005 10 BCLR 1017 (C)); and
Foodcorp (Pty) Ltd v Deputy Director-General, Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism: Branch Marine and Coastal Management (2004 5 BCLR 487
(C) par 63). However, in the following cases, the courts, notwithstanding
the principle of deference, decided that it would be appropriate to
substitute the decision of the body with that of the court: Gauteng
Gambling Board v Silverstar Development Ltd (SCA) (200503-29 unreported
case number 80/04) and Natal Bookmakers Society Limited Co Ltd v The
Chairman of the Gauteng Gambling Board and the South African Betting
Services Ltd (TPD) (2005-11-18 unreported case number 1852/2004).

Broadly seen, judicial deference and the courts' reluctance to substitute
their own decision for that of the administrative body are based on the
principle of judicial separation, and the consideration that the
discretionary power lies with the administrator and not the court (De Ville
336). It is argued that the administrator is vested with the power to
consider applications and that he is generally best equipped, by the
variety of its composition, by experience, and by access to sources of
relevant information and expertise to make the right decision, whilst the
court typically has none of these advantages and is required to recognise
its own limitations (Silverstar Gauteng Gambling Board v Silverstar
Development Ltd (SCA) 2005-03-29 unreported case number 80/04 par 29). The
deviation from this principle may, however, be justified under certain
circumstances. The Supreme Court of Appeal confirmed that fairness to the
parties remains the focus of the enquiry around justifiability
(Commissioner, Competition Commission v General Council of the Bar of SA
2002 6 SA 606 (SCA) par 15; and Silvers tar par 40).

Courts frequently must decide factual issues that are the domain of highly
qualified and technically complicated expertise in every field of human
endeavour. Expert witnesses are called for this purpose, and frequently
courts are called upon to adjudicate on conflicting views of such experts.
This is so even where the matter is so complicated that a court is unable
to follow the explanation of the expert witness (Schmidt and Rademeyer Law
of Evidence (Revision Service Nr 4) 17-16). What is more, it is trite that
the courts are not bound by the opinions of such expert witnesses. Why, in
the case of administrative issues, those very same courts are suddenly
struck by a paralysis of ignorance arising from a lack of variety in
composition, experience, access to sources of relevant information and
expertise, is not at all clear. Surely the administrator is able to put
before the court the information, considerations and reasoning process that
led such an administrator to his or her conclusion. This is not to say that
an administrator must establish the factual basis for the administrative
action in accordance with the rules of evidence applicable in a court of
law. But that does not prevent a court from inquiring into the information
and reasoning leading to the administrator's conclusion.

In accordance with these considerations, it appears that the court in the
Lazarides case relied rather too easily on the doctrine of judicial
deference, escaping a more thorough assessment of the facts in the light of
PAJA. Even in the case of Bato, the court assessed the facts in light of
the PAJA before the issue of deference was decided upon. The lack of
assessment by the court in Lazarides distinguishes it from the Bato judgment.

6 Conclusion

The Lazarides judgment is not satisfactory. It reflects an outdated
approach, relying on a pre-1996 view without re-assessing the sources in
the light of the current Constitution and the effect of PAJA. The Firearms
Control Act 60 of 2000 brings about a drastic change in the firearm
licencing system, affecting a few million firearm licence holders and
prospective applicants. As a result a valuable opportunity to provide more
certainty and greater clarity to state officials, private citizens and
legal practitioners has been lost.

Evan der Berg
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth
M Carnelley
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg
What have YOU done for YOUR rights today?
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