Judge lays into state attorney

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Pretoria - A senior North Gauteng High Court judge has had enough of the office of the state attorney, which he said was failing state departments it must represent in litigation.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann has expressed the hope that the minister of justice and correctional services will step in and take action against “delinquent individuals” in the state attorney’s office.

In dealing with a case about payment of R621 591 for ink cartridges ordered by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, he referred to an earlier judgment by Judge Neil Tuchten in which the latter had drawn attention to the “dysfunctional” office of the state attorney.

Judge Bertelsmann said courts could not function effectively without the professional support of the state’s attorneys and advocates.

“The state attorney is involved in most of the litigation affecting the state, but it often gets punitive costs orders against it, resulting from poor service delivery by the office of the state attorney.

“The taxpayers are the ones who have to fork out,” he said.

Judge Bertelsmann was dealing with a case following an application by the minister of rural development and land reform against Griffo Trading CC which had issued summons in March 2011 against the department for payment for the cartridges it said were ordered and delivered to the department.

An official of the department instructed the state attorney that a plea be filed in which liability was denied on the grounds that the cartridges were not ordered, nor delivered, and that fraud was suspected.

When the plea was eventually filed by the state attorney, it had been acknowledged that the cartridges had in fact been ordered. The department, upon discovering this, told the state attorney to withdraw, but the state attorney did nothing about this, nor did it follow any of the other instructions given to it pertaining to the case.

This included several court orders requesting the department to file certain documents, and Griffo eventually obtained a default judgment against the department.

When the department discovered this, it tried to ascertain what had happened and asked the state attorney’s office for the file. But the state attorney’s office said the file had gone missing.

The department instructed the state attorney to rescind the default judgment. The office again dragged its heels in getting it done, and when it was done, none of the relevant information was placed before the judge, so the application was turned down.

The department has now asked Judge Bertelsmann for leave to appeal against this last refusal. The judge said there was no explanation at all as to how things went wrong and who was responsible for the state of affairs and the “embarrassment” the department was now in.

He granted leave to appeal in this case, as he said another court should have a look at the allegations of fraud claimed about the cartridge order.

He added that if the previous order stood, the “hapless taxpayer” would have to foot that bill.

Apart from ordering that a copy of his judgment be delivered to the Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, he also ordered that it be sent to the chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice, Mathole Motshekga.

Pretoria News


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