An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
I have now read the defamation judgment in the Robert Suresh Roberts case and it ain’t pretty. Acting Justice Weinkove’s judgment does far more harm to Robert’s reputation than the original article published by the Sunday Times.
If Roberts had any reputation before the case started, there cannot be much left of it after the judgment became public. But Absa did pay him more than a million Rand to write a glowing biography of President Thabo Mbeki so maybe Mathias Rath and Anthony Brink still thinks highly of him.
One of the most scathing passages comes when the judge deals with the issue of whether Mr Roberts had obsessively pursued the SABC because of a TV programme he did not agree with. Some of the highlights:
The defendant’s counsel submitted that the documentation exhibited the hallmark of “an unbalanced, paranoid and obsessed complainant”. I agree. I found the correspondence to show signs of excessive emotionality, inappropriate and provocative behaviour. I found that the plaintiff had an unreasonable expectation of especially favourable treatment and he was contemptuous and impatient with others. I found him to be haughty and arrogant not only in his manner of correspondence but also in his manner in court. He displayed a grandiose sense of self-importance and an unreasonable expectation of especially favourable treatment. He engaged in name-dropping and he purported to enjoy the patronage of people who occupy high positions in the corridors or power and influence in the new
. He listed among his “patrons” the Mandela family, former Minister Kader Asmal and President Thabo Mbeki. South Africa
Justice Weinkove also find that “any harm done to the plaintiff’s reputation was self-inflicted” and then continues.
I found the plaintiff to be evasive, argumentative and an opportunistic witness. He spent more time trying to score points off the cross-examiner than in answering the questions truthfully. He was unconvincing and his evidence was shown to be contradictory. I agree with counsel’s submission that his version was completely discredited. He was forced, in cross-examination, to concede that a meeting that he originally claimed had taken place with himself, Raney and Platt, did not take place. His explanation for his contradictions and retraction of previous evidence was unconvincing. That earlier evidence was untruthful.
Dealing with the issue of his leaving the law firm of Deneys Reitz under a cloud the court found that he had behaved in an untenable manner.
The plaintiff’s conduct in this regard was quite improper. His letter to Moseneke at that time was similarly improper. He was in effect hawking an offer of work to a competing firm of attorneys. It is fair comment to suggest that the Law Society would at least investigate a South African lawyer for conduct of this nature. I find that the plaintiff’s various versions of the circumstances of his departure from Deneys Reitz were contradictory and untrue.
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