If you have been a Willis-watcher, keeping an eye on the decisions of Judge Nigel Willis, I have some good news: there’s no sign that his recent elevation to the Supreme Court of Appeal will dull his idiosyncratic style.
Judge Willis, he of the peacocks-and-the-cherry-tree judgment involving a former Turkish grande dame and her disputed Houghton garden wall, has been hearing cases at the SCA over the past month. And two are vintage Willis.
The story reads like something out of Precious Ramotswe’s casebook; something for the No 1 Lady Detective to discuss with her devoted secretary, Grace Makutsi, over mugs of strong Rooibos tea.
It’s January 2007 and a five-year-old boy has disappeared from remote Churchill village in the Northern Cape, not far from the Botswana border. People are outraged. They inform the police, who arrest three elderly farmers. Even the names of the three speak of the story’s strange remoteness: Modisaotsile Ntwagae, 65, Otlhalogantse Thebeapelo, 70, and his almost blind wife, Goitsemang Thebeapelo, 67.
Thanks to an invitation from the University of Pretoria, I’ve been having fun teaching a law course to journalism honours students. Something we discussed is that legal documents are worth examining for possible stories beyond the issue in dispute.
For example, journalists should routinely check how long it took for a matter to be decided, since undue delays could be worth a story. We also looked at the list of parties’ legal representatives, counsel and attorneys, included at the end of judgments. In the past the media would often note these legal “appearances” so everyone accessing the story would know who the lawyers were, even if they didn’t see the original document.