Quote of the week

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.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
17 July 2007

Zuma’s double standard

Is it just me or has Mr. Jacob Zuma once again demonstrated spectacular double standards regarding the criminal justice system? In an interview with the SABC last week Zuma argued that criminals seem to have too many rights and that they should not be let out on bail as easily as they are.

But I always thought Mr. Zuma was of the firm belief that every person is “innocent until proven guilty? He has said so often enough.

But if one is innocent until proven guilty one should surely not be locked up until one is convicted of a crime – unless it is very clear that one poses a danger to society? And that is exactly what the rules on bail (properly interpreted) now provides for.

Why tighten up bail laws unless one is of the view that, yes, all people are innocent until proven guilty but some are more innocent than others.

The problem with this mantra, of course, is that unless one is called Jacob Zuma or is a politician with strong connections to an influential political party, one is never innocent until proven guilty.

Dina Rodriguez was never thought of by Mr. Zuma or anyone else as innocent until she was convicted. And let’s face it, I would be rather surprised to hear that Mr. Zuma has always been of the firm view that Wouter Basson was innocent and remains innocent because he was never convicted of a crime.

This is why I have such a bee in my bonnet about the way this principle – which is based on the notion that one must be presumed innocent by a court of law until the state has proven the case against one – is abused by politicians.

Mr. Zuma and others have been using this important legal principle to try and stop ordinary people from making value judgments about their character. In effect they claim that our standards for judging a politician must be lowered to such a degree that we can only criticize them in any way after they have been convicted of a crime.

But there is no legal reason why members of the public – as opposed to judges hearing a case – cannot make adverse assumptions about the character of, say, Mr. Zuma or Judge President John Hlophe or Robert McBride.

By indicating that bail conditions should be tightened for others who are also “innocent until proven guilty”, Mr. Zuma is really showing his hand. What he believes in (like most politicians caught with their hands in the till or their pants down – is that he is innocent even if proven guilty.

Criminals on the other hand – those who were charged correctly – must be locked up even before they are convicted.

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