President Jacob Zuma. File photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

Courts around the country were kept very busy this year. In a cycle that often saw cases moving through the courts and ending up at the Constitutional Court, The Star was there to take note as the government, particularly decisions made by President Jacob Zuma, were challenged. We witnessed holes being poked on municipal-eviction and finance policies, and were there as Julius Malema’s ego was deflated – a little.

* SCORPIONS: The first case to rattle Zuma’s ANC-led government was the one that spanned two provinces, pitted judges of the Concourt against each other and cost R3.8 million. On March 2, Concourt judges ruled that the government’s decision to disband the Scorpions stripped the country of a corruption and crime-fighting body that had been independent and that the Hawks – a unit established after the dissolution of the Scorpions – was not sufficiently independent. The law that disbanded the Scorpions was invalid, said five of the nine judges.

The court’s four other judges saw things differently, saying section 7 (2) of the constitution “does not specifically impose an obligation on the state to establish an independent corruption-fighting unit”.

Fortunately for Hugh Glenister, the businessman who had instituted the proceedings interdicting the government and Parliament from disbanding the crime-busting unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the majority agreed with him.

The majority ruling ordered the government to overturn a resolution that called for a single police service and the dissolution of the Scorpions, giving Parliament 18 months “to remedy the defect” as the country needed a crime-fighting body independent of political interference.

* MENZI SIMELANE: In another matter involving the NPA, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled on December 1 that the appointment of Simelane as national director of public prosecutions on November 25, 2009 was unconstitutional and invalid, and that Zuma had failed to take into account the findings of the Ginwala Inquiry, which had strongly criticised Simelane.

The SCA also said Zuma had “had less than scanty information” on which to make his decision.

That court’s ruling was basically overturning the Pretoria High Court ruling in favour of Zuma and against the DA, which had mounted the challenge.

The DA had cited “misleading and untruthful evidence” that Simelane had given in 2008 to the inquiry by Frene Ginwala into the fitness for office of his predecessor, Vusi Pikoli. The party also raised Simelane’s limited experience as a prosecutor and his badly written CV.

* ARMS DEAL: On November 17, retired banker Terry Crawford-Browne withdrew his Concourt bid to force Zuma to institute an arms deal inquiry. He had spent more than R5 million on legal fees at this point.

The withdrawal followed Zuma’s September 15 announcement that he would appoint a commission of inquiry to probe the R70 billion arms contracts signed in 1999.

* JULIUS MALEMA: Malema also made an appearance in our courts. He had been hauled before the Equality Court on hate speech charges by AfriForum after singing Dubul’ iBhunu (Shoot the Boer)” at public rallies. He was found guilty and has now filed papers with the SCA.

* JACKIE SELEBI: The former national police commissioner’s attempts to stay out of jail failed when the SCA upheld his high court conviction for corruption.

Selebi had appealed against his conviction on the grounds that the State had based the entire case against him on “lies” told by an unreliable witness – Glenn Agliotti. He also questioned the credibility of his one-time friend – the State’s star witness, whose evidence Johannesburg High Court Judge Meyer Joffe had ruled “must be viewed with the greatest of circumspection”. But the SCA said the State had succeeded in proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that Judge Joffe was justified in convicting Selebi of corruption and contravening the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Activities Act.

* POLICIES: Municipal and provincial policies were challenged in several cases in the Concourt this year.

One case involved the City of Joburg’s housing policy, and the other the financial policy of the Limpopo provincial government.

On December 1, the Concourt ruled that the City of Joburg’s housing policy was unconstitutional. This was in a matter involving Blue Moonlight Properties 39 and a group of Berea residents who faced eviction from the inner-city building in Saratoga Avenue. The building had been declared a fire hazard.

When Blue Moonlight sought a court order to evict residents from a building it wanted to renovate, the residents refused, saying the council was obliged to provide alternative accommodation. But the council disagreed, saying it was not obliged to provide alternative emergency accommodation. That responsibility lay with the provincial government – not local – so the council challenged in the SCA the Johannesburg High Court’s ruling ordering it to provide alternative accommodation.

When it failed, the council took the matter to the Concourt – a bid that also failed as the court ordered it to provide alternative accommodation no later than by April 1 next year.

* SCHOOLS: In another case also dealing with policies, the Johannesburg High Court had harsh words for a northern Joburg school, saying its regulations would prevent disadvantaged children going to better resourced schools that had gained an advantage through apartheid policies.

The school, which cannot be named to protect the pupil involved, took on the Gauteng Department of Education after it was ordered to admit a Grade 1 pupil earlier this year, despite the school saying it had reached its capacity.

The school governing body said the department had acted unlawfully and infringed on the rights of children at the school to receive quality education based on smaller classes.

But in his December 7 ruling, Judge Boissie Mbha agreed with the Education Department’s view that the school “sought to perpetuate racially divisive policies” which prevented disadvantaged children from poorer communities from going to better resourced schools. The school is appealing against the ruling.

* JUDGE JOHN HLOPHE: Another case that was heard in the Concourt is that of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. He is fighting to appeal against a ruling that he had improperly tried to influence Concourt judges to rule in favour of Zuma in graft cases involving the president and French arms company Thint. - The Star