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  • 1962-02-02
  • 1 GLR 47-49
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Statutes?-Construction?-?"Any dispute touching the business of a registered society?"?-Co-operative Societies Ordinance, Cap. 190 (1951 Rev.) s. 44 (1) and (5)


The business of both the plaintiff and defendant societies herein was the purchase and marketing of cocoa. The plaintiff society claimed that the defendant society had in its possession 110 bags of cocoa belonging to the plaintiff society. The plaintiff society therefore instituted an action in the High Court to recover the said bags of cocoa. The defendant society took preliminary objection to the court's jurisdiction which it claimed was ousted by section 44 (1) and (5) of the Co-operative Societies Ordinance, Cap. 190 (1951 Rev.) which provide that "any dispute touching the business of a registered society" should be referred to the Registrar of Co-operative Societies and that his decision once given shall be final and "shall not be called in question in any court of law."


RULING on a preliminary objection to jurisdiction of the court which the defendant pleaded was ousted by the Co-operative Societies Ordinance, Cap. 190 (1951 Rev.) s. 44 (1) and (5).

The action in this case relates to 110 bags of cocoa which the plaintiff society claims it is entitled to recover from the defendant society. The plaintiff society's case, so far as it is possible to state it from its pleadings, is that in April 1961, it despatched the said quantity of cocoa to the Kumasi Co-operative Society. It is said it was stolen but the pleadings are imprecise as to whether the theft took place while the cocoa was in transit or after it had been delivered to the recipient society. This point is however immaterial to the question which at present calls for determination. The plaintiff society claims that its cocoa having been stolen, was surreptitiously sold to the defendant society at a time and under circumstances which should have put it on enquiry. The defendant society for its part denies that it bought any such cocoa as is alleged. If the plaintiff society substantiates its case, the legal position is that the title to the cocoa remain vested in the plaintiff society which will be entitled to its return.

Both the plaintiff and defendant societies are registered under the Co-operative Societies Ordinance.1 Accordingly, the defendant society pleaded that this being a dispute between two registered societies touching their business, the court?'s power to determine it was ousted by the provision of section 44 (1) of the Co-operative Societies Ordinance, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:?-

?"If any dispute touching the business of a registered society (other than a dispute regarding disciplinary action taken by the society or its committee against a paid servant of the society) arises . . . (c) between the society and any other registered society such dispute shall be referred to the Registrar for decision?".

Counsel for the defendant society said in answer to the court that the purchase and marketing of cocoa is the ordinary business of a registered society. This was not disputed by counsel for the plaintiff and for the purpose of construing section 44 of the Ordinance, I will accept that as the business of both societies. The words which call for construction in this case are ?"dispute touching the business?". In the view of counsel for the plaintiff society, this means that both societies must be doing business between themselves and therefore the dispute must arise from contract not from tort. He contented that the defendant society?'s liability in this case (assuming the plaintiff society?'s case to be established) arose ex delicto not ex contractu. Accordingly, he contended that the court?'s jurisdiction is not ousted by section 44.

Counsel for the defendant argued that the words of section 44 are clear and unambiguous and ought not to be restricted in the way contended by the plaintiff. He pointed out that only dispute relating to ownership, possession or occupation of land are excepted fron the ambit of section 44. Counsel for the plaintiff society referred to Halsbury, Laws of England (3rd ed.) Vol. 18, p. 64. Paragraph 121 deals with provisions for settling disputes under the Friendly Society Act, 1896.2 It would seem that under that legislation, disputes falling within certain categories must be decided in a manner directed by the rules of the society but unlike section 44 of Cap. 190, the Act did not completely oust the jurisdiction of the court. Accordingly, I did not derive any help from a consideration of that Act.

The one object of construing statutes is to discover the intention of Parliament from the words it has chosen to enact. I conceive it to be a well settled rule that where the words are plain and unambiguous they must be given their ordinary meaning unless as sometimes happens the legislature itself provides its own statutory dictionary. Neither ?"dispute?" nor ?"business?" is defined by the Ordinance. Counsel for the plaintiff had recourse to a dictionary in order to ascertain the meaning of the word ?"dispute?". In my opinion, a dispute which touches the business of two societies is a difference which arises between them in a matter concerning their business. In this case, the business of both societies is the purchase and marketing of cocoa. The plaintiff society claims that 110 bags of cocoa now in possession of the defendant society properly belongs to itself and seeks to recover it. The defendant society disputes it and that is the matter in controversy between them. The fact that in investigating the dispute, a crime may be found to have been committed by some officers of one or other of the societies is, in my opinion, an irrelevant circumstance. I assume that if a crime is actually disclosed in the course of the investigation, the person charged with investigating the dispute [p.49] would act on the principle in Smith v. Selwym3 and stay investigation until criminal proceedings have been taken. But that by itself ought not, in my judgment, to amount to an ouster of jurisdiction in favour of the court. In my opinion, there is no basis for excluding from the ambit of section 44 a dispute touching the business of registered societies, if that dispute arose from tort. If that had been the intention of the legislature, I see no reason why it did not so specifically provide. There is, in my view, no room here for limiting the wide scope of section 44 by applying anything like the ejusdem generis rule. Unless there is very good reason for it, or unless there is any authority binding on me and which I ought to follow, I should not interpret section 44 of Cap. 190 in a manner that substantially limits its scope and makes its object almost nugatory.

Accordingly, I decide that the present dispute touches the business of the plaintiff and defendant societies and that by the combined effect of subsections (1) and (5) of section 44 of Cap. 190 the jurisdiction of this court is ousted. It follows therefore that the preliminary objection succeeds and this action is dismissed. The plaintiff society will pay the defendant society 35 guineas costs.



Plaintiff / Appellant

D. S. Effah for Akainyah

Defendant / Respondent

K. Asumadu Sakyi for Edusei


Smith v. Selwym [1914] 3 K.B. 98, C.A.
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