Judicial Watch - Opinion

Time to put legal fraternity in the dock?

Justice in the dock?

Who’s to blame for the shameful waste of eight years and R30m of taxpayer’s money on legal cost before President Jacob Zuma admitted the irrationality of reasons for abandoning corruption charges against him?

It was of course, while he is the direct beneficiary, of this delay, and cost, not Mr Zuma in person who made the concession. As has been the case over the eight years, he was not to been seen anywhere near the court. The concession was made by those who advised him over the eight years on how to avoid his day in court on this matter – his legal counsel.

This cunning concession came at the eleventh-hour as the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) was about to dismiss President Zuma and the NPA’s appeal to set aside the reinstatement of criminal charges against him. It is difficult not to regard this “eleventh-hour-move” as, at best, a cynical legal ploy.

Was counsel at that stage really representing its client, the president of the country, and the country by extension’s, best interest or was it a manoeuvre aimed at protecting its own reputation. “Wise counsel,” would surely have realised a long time ago that it’s client is fighting a losing battle that it could just go one way, and that the team involved on his side could at best play for time.

And, there was no important constitutional- or legal principle at stake, bar maybe the principle that everyone should be equal before the law irrespective of his, or her station in society.

If anything, in the latter instance, South Africa is experiencing a massive assault on equality before the law. How many ordinary citizens have access to the resources to afford R30m to avoid appearing in court on criminal charges for almost a decade?

Has the time not come to seriously consider arrangements, be it by legislation, court- or professional ethical rules to avoid a repeat of such situations?

For one, should there not be some sanctions in place that penalise individuals in their personal capacity if public money is misused for frivolous or wasteful legal actions affecting them personally?

Secondly, should the legal profession not, also to protect its own image and status in society, seriously visit its own rules that allow individuals to practise law?

Just consider the implications of following quote from an article by Errol Horwitz in Biznews: “The High Court comprehensively addressed the mixed questions of law and fact, and rightly concluded that the dropping of charges against Zuma was irrational. That should have put an end to further litigation. Nonetheless, Zuma’s legal team petitioned the SCA for leave to appeal when there was every reason to know that an appeal was futile. …. The conduct of Zuma’s legal team and the NPA raises questions of engaging in frivolous litigation in generating an appeal that lacked legal merit with no chance of being won.”

Zuma not done yet

And clearly President Jacob Zuma, and supposedly his legal team as well, is not done yet. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has given them opportunity until 30 November to formulate new reasons as to why he should not be charged with the string of alleged corrupt transgressions.

The President has already indicated that he will, at least in part, be relying on calling into question the credibility of auditing firm KPMG, the same firm which was used to trash the reputation of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

This firm was also responsible for a forensic report which forms part of the state’s case for the massive list of 783 corruption charges against Mr Zuma. He will apparently now use KPMG’s admission that a report by them, which formed part of the attack on Gordhan, was wrong and has since been withdrawn, to try and further postpone his own day in court.

We do not know if this new move comes from Mr Zuma himself or on the advice of his legal team, but it sure smells of opportunism of the highest order and puts the reputation of the legal profession in the dock of the ‘court of public opinion.’

by Piet Coetzer

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