Neutral citation: Margalit v Standard Bank of SA Ltd (883/2011)  ZASCA 208
Coram: Nugent, Leach and Pillay JJA and Southwood and Erasmus AJJA
Heard: 21 November 2012
Delivered: 03 December 2012
The appellant sold an immovable property he owned in Johannesburg for R3 million and instructed a firm of attorneys to effect transfer to the purchaser. The property was bonded to Standard Bank, and in order for transfer to be effected, its bonds over the property had to be cancelled. Standard Bank instructed the second respondent, a firm of attorneys, to act on its behalf in cancelling the bonds. The appellant received his purchase price only after considerable delay in effecting transfer.
The appellant sued both Standard Bank and the second respondent for damages, alleging that he had lost interest on his purchase price as a portion of the period of the delay had been due to negligence on the part of the second respondent. The claim succeeded in the magistrates’ court but that order was set aside on appeal to the high court.
Negligence on the part of the second respondent, and not wrongfulness was the crucial issue that had to be decided. In ruling that that the second respondent had been negligent in the manner in which it had dealt with the cancellation of Standard Bank’s bonds the court looked at the role of a conveyancer:
At [ 23 ]"A conveyancer is of course ‘an attorney who has specialised in the preparation of deeds and documents which by law or custom are registerable in a deeds office and who is permitted to do so after practical examination and admission . . .’4 Like any other professional, a conveyancer may make mistakes. But not every mistake is to be equated with negligence, and in a claim against a conveyancer based on negligence it must be shown that the conveyancer’s mistake resulted from a failure to exercise that degree of skill and care that would have been exercised by a reasonable conveyancer in the same position. As was remarked many years ago by De Villiers CJ, in a dictum recently followed by this court:5
‘I do not dispute the doctrine that an attorney is liable for negligence and want of skill. Every attorney is supposed to be proficient in his calling, and if he does not bestow sufficient care and attention in the conduct of business entrusted to him, he is liable, and where this is proved the Court will give damages against him.’6
 Of course the gravity and likelihood of potential harm will determine the steps, if any, which a reasonable person should take to prevent such harm occurring. Moreover, the more likely the harm the greater is the obligation to take such steps. No hard and fast rules can be prescribed. Each case is to be determined in the light of the particular facts and circumstances. But in the case of a conveyancer, it is necessary to remember that any mistakes which may lead to a transaction in the deeds office being delayed will almost inevitably cause adverse financial consequences for one or other of the parties to the transaction. It is for that reason that in Christie: Fourie’s Conveyancing Practice Guide (2 ed) it is observed that the financial aspects of a transfer of property are of great importance and that negligence or mistakes on the part of a conveyancer can lead to financial loss to clients rendering the conveyancer liable for damages.7
 To avoid causing such harm, conveyancers should therefore be fastidious in their work and take great care in the preparation of their documents. Not only is that no more than common sense, but it is the inevitable consequence of the obligations imposed by s 15(A) of the Act as read with reg 44, both of which oblige conveyancers to accept responsibility for the correctness of the facts stated in the deeds or documents prepared by them in connection with any application they file in the deeds office."
Turning to the various delays which occurred the court found that the absence of an explanation as to how the second respondent who was in possession of a copy of the title deed which showed two bonds registered over the property, yet prepared papers relating to the cancellation of only one bond, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the standard of care exercised fell well short of what was expected of a reasonable conveyancer. As a conveyancer should be fastidious in examining the documents lodged in the deeds office, it therefore concluded that the high court had erred in finding that the respondents were not liable to the appellant. The appeal succeeded and the high court’s order was set aside.
4 Nel Jones Conveyancing in South Africa (4 ed) at 16.
5 Steyn v Ronald Bobroff & Partners (025/12)  ZASCA 184 para 3.
6 Van der Spuy v Pillans 1875 Buch 133 at 135.
7 At 18.