The Appeals Tribunal is accorded very wide and exclusive jurisdiction by the Sugar Industry Agreement. As its name implies, it has Appellate jurisdiction and can hear and determine any appeal to it from a decision, order, ruling or determination of the Sugar Industry Administration Board. Despite its title as an Appellate body, however, it also has original jurisdiction and functions as a forum of first instance in any dispute between a mill and a grower in regard to a Cane Supply Agreement. Moreover, and quite unusually, the Appeals Tribunal is also vested with administrative authority. In this regard it can issue any directive in a matter referred to it for such a directive by either theAdministration Board or the South African Sugar Association. Typically such a referral would relate to what an industry practice ought to be and on which either one or both of those bodies feels uncertain of or is in dispute over. In addition to all those functions, the Appeals Tribunal is also empowered to resolve any matter which the Administration Board fails or is unable to resolve itself. In vesting this particular authority on the Appeals Tribunal, the Sugar Industry Agreement gives practical expression to the reality that sugar industries, both in South Africa as well as in foreign jurisdictions, are structured on a neat balance of power between millers and growers such that neither section is entitled to trump the other. The Sugar Industry Agreement recognises that while that neat balance is an essential requirement for equity and stability within the industry, such balance carries with it inherently the prospect of deadlock in decision making. The Appeals Tribunal accordingly has a fundamental role to play in ensuring that the industry is not hamstrung by indecision by fulfilling a deadlock breaking function.
It is readily apparent that the structure and powers of the Appeals Tribunal have been well and carefully considered by the industry and that the industry has effectively created a unique, balanced, specialised and multi-faceted body designed to cater to its needs justly and expeditiously.
The provision whereby the two industry members of the Appeals Tribunal are appointed as to one each by the millers and the growers is, itself, calculated to satisfy several needs. The first is that neither of those two components of the industry feels marginalised or excluded from the make-up of the Appeals Tribunal. Each has the comfort of knowing that it can appoint a person in whom it has confidence to serve on the Appeals Tribunal. The second is that the Appeals Tribunal is able to draw equally on the specialised knowledge of the two components making up the industry. The third is that the Appeals Tribunal carries within it direct knowledge of the practical workings of the industry. This serves to guard against the industry arriving at decisions which, whilst theoretically sound, are disconnected to the reality on the ground.
It is, however, imperative that it be appreciated that once appointed by the respective constituencies, the industry members on the Appeals Tribunal do not serve to promote the interests of the constituency appointing them. Once appointed, the industry members, serving as they do on a quasi-judicial body, carry a direct, personal and independent responsibility to discharge their obligations, as members of the Appeals Tribunal, in accordance with the dictates of their knowledge, wisdom and conscience and in keeping with the legislation and the interests of the industry, whose interests the Appeals Tribunal is designed to serve. However, the Appeals Tribunal operates on the basis that in the event of any possible conflict of interest between an industry member and a party before the Appeals Tribunal, the industry member in question recuses himself from any participation or involvement in the particular matter. It is for this reason, inter alia, that each industry member has two alternate members who can serve on the Appeals Tribunal.
In regard to any dispute arising between or amongst persons upon whom the Sugar Industry Agreement is binding, the Sugar Industry Agreement vests exclusive jurisdiction on the Appeals Tribunal, that is exclusive to even any Court of law, insofar as the dispute relates to the subject matter, application, any right or obligation arising out of, or the interpretation of the Sugar Industry Agreement and any Cane Supply Agreement. This is again a very deliberate provision in the Sugar Industry Agreement. The industry, when settling upon the terms of the Sugar Industry Agreement, including the creation of the Appeals Tribunal, was alive to the consideration that the industry, being agriculturally based, required its disputes to be heard and determined expeditiously, something that the industry would not enjoy if provision was made to follow the normal legal route of going to the Courts of law. The industry was also alive to the consideration that because of the complexity of the industry and its workings, justice would better be served by a specialised but still independent tribunal designed especially to cater for the needs of the Sugar Industry.
Under the provisions of the Sugar Industry Agreement, the Appeals Tribunal is required to meet at least every quarter for the despatch of its business. For this purpose, the Appeals Tribunal sets up dates, at the beginning of each year, for its quarterly meetings. The meeting dates for 2016 have been set as follows:
- 4 February 2016
- 25 May 2016
- 3 August 2016
- 23 November 2016
In regard to hearings relating to disputes, these are arranged on an ad hoc basis covering a period as required by the nature of the dispute in question. Any person wishing to bring a dispute before the Appeals Tribunal, whether on a priority basis or in the normal course, is required to follow the detailed procedure set out in the Rules adopted by the Appeals Tribunal for this purpose.