Courting headlines in 2014

2014-01-01 06:00

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From the sensational to the constitutionally significant, Charl du Plessis takes a look at the court cases that will continue to grip the nation this year

1. Spy tapes

The DA’s court battle to have corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma reinstated is back in the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2014.

The case has become best known for the DA’s bitter preliminary battle to obtain the spy tapes that got Zuma off the hook on corruption charges.

In August, Judge Rammaka Mathopo ruled that the tapes were not part of Zuma’s confidential disclosure to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and ordered that they be handed over.

The Supreme Court of Appeal will now have to decide whether that is indeed the case.

Sources with knowledge of Zuma’s case have previously told City Press that the real problem with the spy tapes was that they did not contain anything that would justify a decision to drop corruption charges.

The case set a precedent in South African law when the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that it was possible to challenge a decision to drop a prosecution on the basis of the principle of the rule of law.

Depending on when the battle ends, South Africans may know whether a sitting president can be charged for corruption.

2. Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial

The murder trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius in March is unlikely to dramatically alter the body of South African criminal law. However, it will no doubt again result in a feeding frenzy of interest in the justice system.

In an indictment served on Pistorius in August, prosecutor Gerrie Nel made it clear that the state intended to prosecute Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The state has argued that it was irrelevant whether Pistorius thought there was an intruder in his bathroom. Irrespective of who was behind the closed door, his intention was to kill, it says.

Pistorius’ lawyers are likely to summon significant amounts of razzle-dazzle surrounding the forensic evidence and the conduct of the police investigating this matter.

3. The Richard Mdluli saga

The continued legal fallout over suspended former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli is set to drag into its third year in 2014.

In August, Freedom Under Law was successful in overturning the NPA and the police’s decisions to drop two sets of criminal charges as well as disciplinary charges against Mdluli.

This case has been taken on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The labour court will also hear a review by the NPA of the finding of its own disciplinary hearing into senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach.

Breytenbach has maintained that her suspension was designed to protect Mdluli from prosecution.

The Mdluli saga and its fallout can be seen as the first big test for newly appointed NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana.

4. The Judicial Service Commission

The way the Judicial Service Commission appoints judges has often been a thorny subject in democratic South Africa.

In April this year, a furious debate once again raged over the way the Judicial Service Commission understands merit and transformation in the appointment of judges.

The debate saw the resignation of Advocate Izak Smuts from the commission and would later lead to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng delivering a scathing address about transformation in the legal profession.

In a case that will likely be of enormous constitutional significance, the Helen Suzman Foundation has now turned to the courts in a bid to provide legal finality on the criteria used to appoint judges.

5. Julius Malema’s corruption trial

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema’s trial will go ahead in September this year – if the NPA does not decide to drop corruption charges against him before then.

At Malema’s last court appearance in November, it emerged that the firebrand former ANC Youth League leader had made representations to the NPA as to why it should drop charges against him.

The postponements in Malema’s matter have led to speculation that the NPA’s case against him is not as strong as was thought, something the NPA has denied.

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