Judges slam ‘rude’ lawyer, ‘obstructive’ witness
Pretoria - Two judges, in separate cases, in no uncertain terms voiced their displeasure at the conduct they were shown as judicial officers by parties involved in cases before them.
Both a “rude” lawyer and an “obstructive” soon-to-be divorcee received more than a slap on the wrist for their attitudes towards the judges.
The lawyer got more than he bargained on when Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Bert Bam found him to be in contempt of court and slapped him with a R30 000 fine or 30 days in jail.
In the other case, Judge Nicolene Janse van Nieuwenhuizen ordered a woman in a divorce case to foot the entire legal bill for missing two days of court, simply because the woman steadfastly refused to subject herself to a virtual court hearing.
In the divorce case, Judge Janse van Nieuwenhuizen started off by citing the number of Covid-19 deaths in South Africa and in the world as it stood on the day when she was due to hear the De Villiers vs De Villiers matter.
“The virus has had an impact on all spheres of life, including the judiciary. To ensure the effective and safe running of the courts, Judge President of this Division Dunstan Mlambo issued directives to try to combat the spreading of the virus in the courts, including allowing for virtual hearings.
“This method has the obvious benefit of limiting the chances of exposing oneself – that is, all persons whose appearance/presence is pertinent to said court proceedings, be it judges, court staff, legal fraternity, witnesses, interested parties or the media – unnecessarily to contracting the virus.”
Judge Janse van Nieuwenhuizen said virtual hearing were very effective, as there was a screen right in front of a judge. “Each blink of an eye, a twitch of the mouth, whether the witness is looking sideways, down or directly into the camera is closely observed.”
Thus, as she was allocated the divorce hearing, the judge advised the parties that the hearing will be virtual.
“The aforesaid method has been utilised by this court since the inception of the pandemic, without any problems. This method of hearing ensures that issues in disputes are properly and safely conducted,” the judge said.
At first both parties in the divorce insisted on an open court hearing. Mr De Villiers’ camp eventually saw reason and agreed to virtual proceedings. But Mrs De Villiers had put her foot down. She wanted to see her estranged husband in court and that was that.
No amount of reasoning by the judge, her counsel or anyone else could sway her.
“While the plaintiff is not concerned with the risks involved in appearing in ’open’ court, her decision exposes her own legal team, the defendant and his legal team, myself, my secretary and other court personnel who will have to be in court, to the risk of contracting the virus. In weighing up the different competing interests, the plaintiff's stance can only be described as selfish,” the judge said.
As there was no other judge available to hear the matter in open court, the trial – booked for four days in court – could not go ahead.
At the end, the judge ordered that the obstinate plaintiff had to foot everyone’s legal bill.
Meanwhile, Judge Bam also had enough of the conduct of an attorney, only identified as B Maphanga, who was due to defend an accused.
The attorney simply did not pitch in court, stating he was busy, and demanded the case had to be postponed to a date which suited him.
The judge time and again summonsed the attorney to court, but he never pitched. The judge remarked that it was “astonishing” that a judicial officer could conduct himself in this manner.
When the attorney eventually, after various delays, appeared in court, the judge said he “arrogantly” and “in an aggressive manner” maintained he was not ready to proceed and that he could do as he wished.
The judge said he gave the attorney several chances to explain his conduct, which at times became heated, but he persisted in stating that he was entitled to act the way he did. In finding him in contempt of a court – an unusual step – the judge remarked that his conduct was a “shocking display of contempt towards this court”.