MORE than two years after her office withdrew charges of crimen injuria against now retired Judge President of KwaZulu-Natal, Chiman Patel, the province’s prosecutions boss was adamant yesterday that the judge’s use of the word “rubbish” constituted a crime.
Provincial director of public prosecutions Advocate Moipone Noko testified yesterday in the Durban High Court in the malicious prosecution lawsuit brought by Judge Patel against the State.
Judge Patel was charged with crimen injuria relating to alleged remarks he made to a stationery clerk, Lindiwe Nxele, in his chambers at the Durban High Court in October 2013.
The charges against Judge Patel related to Nxele’s claims that he shouted at her, pointed his finger and called her “nonsense, trash, rubbish and useless”, while reprimanding her in his chambers.
But on the day his criminal trial was to start in late 2014, the National Prosecuting Authority announced it was withdrawing the charges against Judge Patel.
In his civil trial against the State, Judge Patel admitted he used the word “rubbish”, but testified that it was not directed at Nxele and denied making any insulting utterances directed at Nxele.
Yesterday, Noko said due to the high-profile nature of the case, she dealt with the docket herself. She said it was Judge Patel’s alleged use of insults and his saying the word “rubbish” that had constituted crimen injuria and that even if he was referring to Nxele’s work when he mentioned the word, it was still criminal.
“Whether you refer to a person or the work of that person, the test is if a reasonable man would be offended,” she said, “The word ‘rubbish’ is humiliating and degrading.
“To be honest I was shocked to see the Judge President accused of insulting somebody,” she told the court. But she was adamant that while the witnesses’ versions of events all differed slightly, they all agreed he had used the word “rubbish” that day.
She said the matter had been made more serious by the fact that Judge Patel was an Indian man and Nxele, an African woman.
When Nxele gave evidence earlier this week, she told the court no one had properly explained the mediation process to her and that if they had, she would have agreed to it.
But Noko said yesterday that this was not the case and that Nxele had wanted to take Judge Patel to court. She also said a part of the reason charges against Judge Patel were withdrawn was that just before his trial was supposed to start, Nxele advised prosecutors she no longer felt her dignity had been impaired.
That a complainant felt his or her dignity had been impaired was a crucial part of a charge of crimen injuria, she said.
“But Lindiwe was now feeling okay about the whole thing,” she said.
Advocate Vinay Gajoo SC, acting for Patel, asked Noko: “So she (Nxele) kept changing her story?”
“Unfortunately. That’s why we are here,” Noko replied.
In response, Gajoo said: “We are here because you chose to prosecute Judge Patel”.
The trial continues.