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Pretoria - In a turn of events in the Pretoria High Court, instead of delivering judgment in the R500 000 defamation claim by a leading city psychologist against the founder of Fathers-4-Justice, the parties decided to bury the hatchet and came to an agreement on Monday.
Psychologist Christa du Toit, in a settlement made an order of court, withdrew her claim in its entirety against Dr Steven Pretorius. She also agreed to pay his legal costs.
Pretorius undertook not to publish any further statements concerning Du Toit, apart from the contents of the order.
This relates to findings made by the conduct committee and appeals tribunal of the Professional Board for Psychology of the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
Judge Frans Kgomo said on Monday he had written 36 pages of his judgment before this turn of events.
He expressed gratitude that the matter had been settled. He said it was not in the best interests of professionals to “sling mud at each other”.
The parties had closed their cases and judgment was due on Monday. But a week ago counsel for Du Toit indicated he wanted to re-open the case to recall Pretorius for further cross-examination.
Du Toit wanted to refer the court to a publication dated August 29 - allegedly made a day after the matter had been adjourned for argument - which she said she had found on the Internet. The document was not placed before court and it is not known what it pertains to.
Pretorius, meanwhile, had obtained the services of well-known legal eagle Nic Maritz, SC, who, in a statement to the court, objected to this.
Throughout the hearing, Pretorius denied he had bad-mouthed Du Toit when, in an earlier publication on the website Fathers-4-Justice, he allegedly said she had been found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the health professions council and scrapped from the roll. He added that Du Toit had been suspended from practising for one year, but that the sentence had been suspended for three years.
Du Toit said this was defamatory as she had been suspended, not struck off the roll. It later emerged that she had appealed against her conviction and sentence. Her conviction was confirmed, but her sentence was replaced with a warning.
It was, however, initially stated in court papers that both her conviction and sentence were overturned.
Du Toit said under cross-examination that she had found out only in the week of the hearing that her conviction had not been overturned on appeal. She said she was also unaware of the recent amendment to the court papers that the “conviction was confirmed and the sentence was set aside”.
Maritz said that before the start of the hearing (during pre-trial proceedings), it had been pointed out to her attorney, Konrad Rontgen, that the appeal against the conviction had been dismissed. He said the probability was that Rontgen had led her to believe the appeal had been successful.
He said when Du Toit years later became aware of the publication and instructed Rontgen to institute action for defamation, he was left with the choice of telling her the outcome of the appeal or instituting an action in which the false allegation was made (that her conviction for unprofessional conduct had been overturned on appeal).
Maritz said once Du Toit had “saddled the horse” by instituting action and found out her conviction had been confirmed on appeal, she should have withdrawn her action.