In terms of South African law, the legal concept of cession was defined in Johnson v Incorporated General Insurance Ltd 1983 (1) SA 318 (A) and in FNB vLynn1996 (2) SA 339 (A), as:
“…an act of transfer to enable the transfer of the right to claim to take place.F Accomplished by means of an agreement of transfer entered into between the cedent and the cessionary and arising out of a justa causa, from which the intention of the cedent to transfer the right to claim appears or can be inferred and from which the intention of the cessionary to become the holder of the right appears or can be inferred.”
In simple terms, according to the online Oxford Dictionary, cession is ‘the formal giving up of rights, property, or territory by a state’. According to the online Free Dictionary, it is ‘the act of relinquishing one’s right’.
This means that cession is clearly distinguishable from contracts because it does not create obligations and is also distinguished from delegation and subrogation, which do not involve the actual transfer of rights.
Valuable tool for business
Cession is a valuable business tool because it allows businesses to cede assets that can be ceded by transferring them − completely or not − when there is no cash available to secure a transaction or assure performance. However, it is essential that the parties involved understand and express their needs rather than blindly signing documents that do not enshrine their true intentions.
Legal requirements for a valid cession
According to van der Merwe et al 2002, the following requirements must be met to affect valid cession:
- A right inhering to the cedent
- Agreement between the cedent and the cessionary to give and accept transfer of the right
- Compliance with any formalities set by the law.
1.1. A right inhering to the cedent
Existing rights versus a spes
According to FNB v Lynn 1996 (2) SA 339 A, our courts have to date followed the approach that only existing rights may be ceded, and not rights which amount to nothing more than an expectation or spes. The determining factor in this approach is whether or not the right falls within the cedent’s estate at the time of the cession.
However, according to Muller v Trust Bank 1981 (2) SA 117 N, there is another theory that deviates completely from this approach and deserves a mention. In terms of the doctrine of cession in anticipando, cession of a spes may happen provided the cedent and cessionary conclude both a contract (obligatory agreement) as well as a transfer agreement to affect cession. Upon the materialisation of the right, when the right actually comes into existence, cession may take place.
There is no formal objection to this approach and our courts have not indicated that they are completely adverse to it. Nevertheless, there is no precedent to date that guarantees cession can be enforced based on this common law doctrine.
Accordingly, any personal right may be ceded provided it already falls within the cedent’s estate and is capable, in law, of being ceded. Therefore, this even applies to rights that have not yet come into force or effect − such as vested rights (for example: the rights of the beneficiaries of a family trust before its dissolution); contingent rights (rights which are subject to a condition); and/or the right to receive your pension pay out upon reaching the age of 65 years.
1.2 Justa causa (or intent)
A causa, or reason, for the cession taking place essentially determines the nature and extent to which the right is transferred between the cedent and the cessionary.
In the case of out and out cession, or normal cession, the right is usually transferred to the cessionary while the cedent has a reversionary right to cancel the cession and (re)claim the right, should it become necessary.
Whether or not total transfer of rights takes place in the case of security cession, or cession in securitatem debiti, has been widely debated for some time now. But, legal uncertainty prevails to a certain extent. The question remains as to whether security cession is only a ‘sue do’ or ‘theoretical cession’, where the cession is treated like a pledge of the right. In this case, no actual transfer of the right takes place.
The only logical explanation for this theory is that the cedent retains ownership but only relinquishes his ability to exercise or enforce his rights. Although the courts have, in fact, confirmed this construction may be theoretically unsound, some continue to apply this model based on the notion of an established legal precedent that has been applied for over 70 years. This was confirmed again in Grobler v Ootshuizen 2009 ZASCA 51, where the Supreme Court of Appeal held that security cession is nothing more than a pledge.
There is an opposing argument that this type of cession, regardless of the difference in causa, is treated as an out and out cession and transfer of rights. This theory is further supported by the case of Picardi Hotels v Thkweni Property 2008 ZASC 128, where the court held that a cedent who has not exercised his reversionary rights lacks locus standi in the enforcement or exercise of the right so ceded.
2. The agreement
Although an agreement for cession need not be in writing, a written agreement is always preferable. The only requirement set according to Botha v Fick 1995 (2) SA 720 (A) is that ‘mere consensus is sufficient to effect a cession’.
In addition, the cession must also be lawful and the rights of debtors should not be prejudiced. This does not imply that the debtor must be notified or that the debtor will become a party to the cession.
In most cases, there is no need to comply with any formalities to affect cession. In some instances, however, certain formalities are prescribed by law. In the case of a mortgage bond, for example: it must be registered at the Deeds Office.
Cession is a valuable tool in business. That said, it is of utmost importance that the cedent and cessionary both understand the legal nature and consequences of their transaction, or cession, before entering into an agreement.