The High Court battle over who should pay former President Jacob Zuma’s legal fees could be precedent-setting – by establishing principles for when and how the state will pick up the tab when officials are charged with corruption in the future.

The judgment, says Mail & Guardian journalist Sarah Smit – could be especially relevant following the outcome of the Zondo commission into state capture, which will likely implicate high-level government officials in possible criminal conduct.

Zuma’s ‘Stalingrad’ legal strategy since he was charged with corruption in 2007 has cost the public millions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned the figure of R15.3m, saying the state had been funding Zuma’s legal costs since 2006, following Zuma’s request that his legal bills be funded by the state.

However, the EFF – which joined the DA in the High Court action – argued that, according to its calculations, Zuma had likely actually spent more than R32m on litigation so far.

In its heads of argument, the EFF said the state’s decisions to fund Zuma’s litigation in 2006 and 2008 were ‘surrounded by a web of maladministration and personally enriched Zuma at great public expense’. This was likened to the Nkandla saga, with the EFF’s call being the same in both cases: ‘Pay back the money.’

Smit notes that personal cost orders have only recently been regularly enforced by the courts. In the past two years, in at least four high-profile cases – two against Zuma, one against the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and another against former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini – personal cost orders have been granted.

‘In all four instances,’ says Smit, ‘the personal cost orders were granted on the basis of reckless litigation and pursuing frivolous cases at the state’s expense.’

Full analysis in the Mail & Guardian