Quote of the week

Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation.  This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.

KHAMPEPE J and THERON J
Public Protector v South African Reserve Bank (CCT107/18) [2019] ZACC 29 (22 July 2019)
18 August 2008

Road Accident Fund: fighting a cartel or stuffing up?

Criticizing courts or judges is a tricky thing. Not that the lot at Luthuli House would notice. I was reminded again of how tricky it is to criticize judges responsibly when I read the judgment of acting Judge President Janet Traverso in the case brought against the Road Accident Fund (RAF) by the Law Society of South Africa and Others.

Last week’s (RAF) chief executive, Jacob Modise, accused Traverso of bias saying that the hearing was “doomed from the beginning”, and accusing Traverso of “already having made up her mind” on the outcome of the matter. According to IOL he continued:

“The RAF questions the reasons why the hearing was brought to the Cape (high court) Division when the RAF headquarters are in Gauteng. The judge did not allow the RAF counsel enough time to state his case. What was seen in court was a complete disappointment.”

Turning his sights on the Law Society of SA, Modise said it had “continuously insulted the ordinary people”. He added: “(The Law Society) says they are semi-literate and have never owned bank accounts. They have also said that claimants who have received large sums of money will squander or steal it. There is no more racist statement than that.”

Although I found Modise’s language a bit too intemperate, my gut reaction was that he might have a point. Was this not perhaps a case of lawyers protecting their own, I wondered? And was the arguments by lawyers that poor people would suffer if the present system – which allows lawyers to take RAF cases for clients on contingency basis – not merely self-serving drivel to protect their income stream?

Let’s face it, lawyers make lots and lots of money out of the RAF system and although many clients benefit from the arrangement that allows lawyers to take their RAF cases on contingency basis, the whole system seems wasteful and inefficient to me. Why can’t they devise a system that cut out the lawyers altogether?

I still hold these views and I am still a bit skeptical of the motives of the lawyers to bring this application. Can’t imagine they would have brought the application if only their client’s interests and not their own financial interests were at stake.

But after reading the Traverso judgment, it seems clear that Modise was criticising the judge and the lawyers without any regard for the substance of the decision. This was merely an application for interim relief until such time as the court reviews the decision of the RAF to stop payment of funds to attorneys directly.  As judge Traverso makes clear there is well grounded apprehension on the part of lawyers of irreparable harm would result if the decision of the RAF was implemented.

Interim relief was therefore perfectly in order.

It would be for another court to decide whether the decision itself should be set aside permanently. Mr. Modise’s criticism was therefore uninformed and scurrilous. I assume he is a lawyer and he should have known better.

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