Don’t blame the Constitution for allowing Stalingrad tactics – blatantly employed by for President Jacob Zuma, but by others as well – to cause unreasonable delays in criminal trials.

That is the view of retired Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron in a radio interview recorded on the Cape Talk site.

He says ‘there are many unscrupulous lawyers and unscrupulous clients who have exploited the rightful protection of our Constitution and Bill of Rights’ and ‘we have to find procedural, just, and fair constitutional ways to put a stop to this'.

Cameron was responding to questions related to an article he wrote – along with JJ du Toit and Alexia Katsiginis – in De Rebus (Justice postponed: What causes unreasonable delays in criminal trials?).

Asked how one makes the distinction between protecting one's constitutional rights and exploiting the courts in general, Cameron listed ‘four guilty parties’ that needed attention: unscrupulous clients and lawyers, the professional association now called the Legal Practice Council, and judges themselves.

The first party he describes as unscrupulous clients 'who are guilty but want to avoid going to jail at all costs; want to avoid even confronting the charges in court’.

Then he says there are unscrupulous lawyers, notes Cape Talk'Stunt withdrawals we call it in our article, where suddenly the lawyer says, "oh I have a different engagement, and the trial cannot proceed".' 

Cameron points out that in the US, for example, you cannot do this because the trial does proceed and the client can sue their lawyer for malpractice.

'No stunt withdrawals are allowed in America.'

Cameron says lawyers using excuses such as having other engagements to postpone a court date is 'outrageous.'

On the Legal Practice Council, he says ‘it has displayed lax oversight and is not asking for explanations as to why lawyers are adopting these delaying practices’.

Judges, he noted, were ‘too lax’, adding High Court judges and appellate judges should be cracking down on these stunts.

Full Cape Talk interview