Lawyers – and Zuma – should heed Socikwa ruling
The recent Johannesburg Labour Court judgment in Unisa v Socikwa & Others serves as a ‘searing indictment of unscrupulous lawyers who mislead the court or bring utterly hopeless cases to court, and thus enable their filthy rich clients (or clients corruptly bankrolled by filthy rich benefactors) to abuse the legal process’.
Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos notes the above judgment – penned by Acting Judge Smanga Sethene – was handed down on the same day a full Bench of the KZN High Court (Pietermaritzburg) held Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of Billy Downer and Karyn Maughan constituted an abuse of the court process.
Writing on his Constitutionally Speaking blog, De Vos says while not all the cases brought by Zuma to delay his criminal prosecution were entirely hopeless, many of them were, with the most hopeless case of them all being the ‘doomed’ attempt to privately prosecute Billy Downer and Karyn Maughan.
‘The entire folly is based on a false factual premise, namely that Downer and Maughan had been involved in the leaking or publication of Zuma’s private medical information contained in confidential documents.’
De Vos says KZN High Court (Pietermaritzburg) Judge Piet Koen made it clear in October 2021 – in State v Zuma and Another – that the documents on which Maughan reported revealed no private medical information about Zuma, and were in any case not confidential at the time the documents were shared with her and she reported on them.
Both the SCA and the Constitutional Court have dismissed Zuma’s applications for leave to appeal Koen’s findings.
‘It must have been obvious to Zuma and his lawyers that the prosecutions could never succeed. Yet, the prosecutions were instituted and when this was challenged, more time and money was wasted on Zuma’s lawyers defending the indefensible.’
De Vos notes this partly why the full Bench of the court held last week in Maughan v Zuma and Others that Zuma’s attempt to prosecute Downer and Maughan constituted an abuse of the legal process, and interdicted him from ‘reinstituting, proceeding with, or from taking any further steps pursuant to the private prosecution’ of either of them.
As the court pointed out, an abuse of process takes place ‘where the procedures permitted by the Rules of the Court to facilitate the pursuit of the truth are used for a purpose extraneous to that objective’.
Says De Vos: ‘While a prosecution (whether private or not) will not be unlawful merely because a prosecutor seeks to secure a conviction for an ulterior motive, a prosecutor who does not seek to secure a conviction at all (as was the case with Zuma’s prosecution of Maughan and Downer) – but only to oppress and harass individuals, and to sabotage the criminal justice system – will make himself guilty (as Zuma did with the assistance of his legal representatives) of an abuse of process.’
De Vos says what made things worse for Zuma is that his lawyers made no attempt to provide any evidence to refute the mostly undisputed facts.
Instead, as the court noted, ‘there are blanket, bald denials of material allegations without laying any factual basis therefor or any explanation to justify his denials’.
De Vos notes this is not surprising – there are no factual bases for the blanket denials made by Zuma’s lawyers.
He points out in the Socikwa Labour Court ruling, the court ordered the legal practitioners (both advocate and attorneys) who represented Unisa ‘not to charge any fee for legal services rendered’, or if they had already been paid, to repay Unisa within 60 days.
De Vos responds: ‘Had the many courts forced over the past 19 years to hear one after the other hopeless cases brought by Zuma and his lawyers made similar orders prohibiting Zuma’s lawyers from charging any fees, Zuma might by now have run out of lawyers willing to represent him.’
Article disclaimer: While we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide final legal advice as facts and situations will differ from case to case, and therefore specific legal advice should be sought with a lawyer.