Porritt’s ‘indigence’ disputed

2009-10-08 00:00

THE chief executive officer of Legal Aid South Africa has rejected claims by businessman Gary Porritt and his former assistant, Susan Bennett, that they cannot expect to receive “quality” legal services from the state in their complex R700 million fraud trial.

Vidhu Vedalankar, however, also points out that Legal Aid SA remains unconvinced that Porritt and Bennett ought to qualify for legal aid and is appealing the ruling of the trial court in that regard, as well as the ruling concerning the “number and type” of counsel to be appointed to represent them.

However, in the interim, Vedalankar said, Legal Aid SA will provide competent legal representation to Porritt and Bennett.

“All advocates have extensive criminal law experience, with three of the four advocates appointed having more than 25 years’ experience each and one of them also having specialist commercial law experience... we are shocked that the accused find fault with them.” 

She said it is up to the accused to decide whether to accept legal aid.

Porritt and Bennet are accused of defrauding thousands of people arising from the collapse of the JSE-listed Tigon/Shawcell Group.

Vedalankar said it is “unfortunate” that the pair chose to attack Legal Aid SA “to serve their own self-interest”.

She said it is noteworthy that the Constitution is committed to human rights, which has made it possible for the accused to be afforded a fair trial through state-subsidised legal assistance (if they cannot afford to pay for their own defence).

Vedalankar said that in the 2008/2009 financial year alone, 435 000 people in South Africa benefited from legal aid.

She added it is on record that Legal Aid SA had argued before the court hearing Porritt and Bennett’s application for legal aid that their lifestyle is “at a level” where they should be able to afford the cost of their trial.

“These are accused who fly to court, use cellphones and complain about Legal Aid South Africa faxing a document to their Johannesburg office when they would have preferred to receive the document at their residential faxes,” said Vedalankar.

She said the trial judge was asked to request a full disclosure of assets from Porritt and Bennett, including their interest in various properties, companies and trusts.

“The responses, evasive and minimalist as they were, pointed to a lifestyle that was certainly not consistent with being indigent. Unfortunately the court did not oblige the accused to provide detailed proper answers to the questions put to them. They have already spent R23 million on their own defence.” 

ingrido@witness.co.za

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