Durban — Legal experts said the judge has the authority to discipline individuals who are causing delays by arriving late in court in the corruption and fraud trial of former mayor of eThekwini Zandile Gumede and others.
Gumede and 21 others are facing charges that include conspiracy to commit corruption, corruption, fraud, money laundering, racketeering, contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act and contravention of the Municipal Systems Act worth more than R300 million, relating to a Durban Solid Waste tender.
On Tuesday it was the end of the session of this trial and the next one would start in November.
In this session and previous ones, the case rarely started on time because of some of the accused and some legal representatives arriving late.
The High Court is supposed to start at 10am. However, in this trial sometimes court proceedings have started 30 minutes late. Judge Sharmaine Balton has constantly complained about time management. On Tuesday she made it clear she was not impressed when court proceedings did not start right after the tea break. The court had started about 15 minutes late.
University of KwaZulu-Natal Professor Nirmala Gopal of the School of Criminology and Forensic Studies said it was disrespectful to the court, the proceedings and the judge to arrive late.
She said if there was no valid reason for late coming, the judge could discipline that particular individual.
“For as long as the trial is delayed, it’s an additional expense to the taxpayers; there has to be some kind of accountability and the judge is within her right to reprimand them,” said Gopal.
She added an issue of some original documents might compromise the integrity of the case.
State prosecutor Ashika Lucken had told the court that some original documents for the case were destroyed in the floods.
However, Gopal said it would depend on how crucial those documents were.
“It’s really sad that wherever the documentation was housed was exposed to this kind of risk, and hopefully the State has some lessons to learn.
“Or whoever had the documents housed has some lessons to learn,” she said.
Legal expert and director of Zikalala Attorneys, Mpumelelo Zikalala, said the accused should be disciplined for arriving late in court and causing a delay in the trial.
He said after every court session they were reminded that they had to be in court at a particular time.
“If you fail to be there you are in contempt of an order,” he said.
He said as a lesson, the court should look into that.
Speaking about the impact of some documents being destroyed, he said it put a spanner in the works from the side of the State because it had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the individuals indeed orchestrated the crime.
He said, however, that it was not a fatal blow.
“There are other avenues and evidence that can be obtained in order to cure the other evidence that can’t be retrieved anymore due to the distraction that has taken place.
“The defence can use it to a certain extent, but its side is simply to poke holes in whatever evidence you are going to come up with and provide our own explanation.
“So the non-availability of evidence can be raised, but cannot be used as a sole thing that will acquit an individual,” explained Zikalala.
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