The Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) has stepped in to prevent the taxpayer from forking out R147.6m in damages to a former prisoner, says a Pretoria News report.

The damages had emanated from the fact that the State Attorney’s Office did virtually nothing to defend the claim instituted against the police.

Acting Judge Francois Botes said if the claim remained uncontested due to the lack of any action on the side of the State Attorney, it would have meant that the taxpayer was responsible for the payment.

Morake Isaac Matseke initially claimed R6m from the police after he was in jail for more than six years before his name was cleared on appeal and he was released. He suddenly changed this amount to R147.6m.

Botes had harsh words for the Office of the State Attorney, describing the manner in which the State Attorney dealt with this case as ‘unacceptable, shocking and horrific’. The issue was that the State Attorney’s conduct in virtually doing nothing to defend the matter paved the way for Morake to apply for a default judgment.

Botes said it was clear that the State Attorney did not comply with the standard of professional conduct set out for attorneys.

He said to add insult to injury, when Morake increased his claim from R6m to R147.6m, the State Attorney did nothing to object to this. The Pretoria News report notes Moroko claimed that he was imprisoned for six years, two months and three weeks in the Barberton Maximum Prison for no just cause.

When the State Attorney did not respond to his claim, he at first turned to court in 2015 to strike down the defence of a blank denial of the events, as he wanted his money. The judge at the time instead ordered that the State Attorney had to within 10 days set out their defence in an affidavit. This was never done.

The court, two years later, struck down the defence of a blank denial, which left the way open for Moroko to get the money he claimed. The State Attorney still did nothing.

His lawyer subsequently wrote to the Office of the State Attorney, stating they wanted a settlement offer or they would ask the court for default judgment. There was no response from the State Attorney.

It will be an absolute travesty of justice if the respondent is allowed to pursue his claim for damages on an unopposed basis, such as by default. Logic and common sense dictate that the police should be afforded an opportunity to contest the claim,’ Botes said.

Full Pretoria News report