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Road Accident Fund hauled over coals for failing to appear in court

Road Accident Fund CEO Collins Letsoalo. Picture: Zelda Venter

Road Accident Fund CEO Collins Letsoalo. Picture: Zelda Venter

Published Jun 14, 2022

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Pretoria - The Road Accident Fund will be in the hot seat before three judges of the High Court in Mpumalanga, regarding its non-participation in cases and for settling claims at the last minute.

Earlier this year, Mpumalanga Judge President Frans Legodi ordered the RAF to answer a host of questions by the court, including how it was proceeding with claims previously defended.

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Also included in the questions were the procedures followed by the RAF, when it was called on by the courts to attend pretrial conferences or judicial case management conferences in cases due to be heard. The judge also wanted to know whether, in the absence of RAF defence lawyers, its case handlers were legally able to represent the RAF in matters that came before the court.

He further demanded answers about why the RAF settled matters on the steps of the court, while it was well known that the court had issued a directive that matters could not be settled on the day of a hearing.

He further wanted to know what were the cost implications for the RAF if it settled matters only on the day they were due to be heard.

The court’s demand for answers followed two separate cases, where matters proceeded to trial as the RAF did not earlier indicate any way forward but, on the day of the trial – and without having a lawyer present in court – made known it would settle.

This was despite the court having earlier called on the RAF to attend pretrial negotiations, so that the parties knew what the way forward would be and thereby would not to waste costs.

Judge Legodi, in his quest to obtain answers from the RAF and its employees for its absence in the two cases before the Mpumalanga High Court, wanted to know why he should not award costs in the cases against the entity’s officials personally.

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Over the past three years, RAF CEO Collins Letsoalo has maintained that the entity was working on a different business model, without its now-dismissed panel of attorneys, to save costs.

Two of the officials filed an affidavit with the court, stating that while they were previously involved in the cases, they had moved to another department and were unaware the cases were in court.

The other two said they were involved in many other matters and did not have time to give the matters their attention before they were in court. It was stated in an affidavit that the reason why the case handlers do not appear at pretrial and case management procedures, was because they were not authorised to do so. Letsoalo said he made use of the office of the State Attorney for the matters.

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The Legal Practice Council was called on by the court to enter the proceedings to provide it with additional information.

In an affidavit, it said: “It is clear that the RAF is concerned with polishing its image and demonstrating that it is solvent by creating an impression that it is making surpluses, while it stays the execution of court orders and judgments and owing billions to creditors.”

The Western Cape High Court gave the RAF a tongue lashing last week, in a matter where the entity wanted to rescind an order that it had to pay R6.7 million to a claimant. In that case, the RAF also did not pitch in court to defend the matter.

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In that case, Judge Daniel Thulare said the RAF could not begin to write its own laws.

“The fact that the RAF is an organ of state exercising public power and performing a public function, whose main object is to ameliorate the plight of victims rendered vulnerable by accidents, was no licence to disregard a court process.”

In turning down the rescission application, he said: “Courts cannot tolerate even the slightest impression that there is a constitutional guaranteed right to plain stupidity. The message should be clear and unequivocal, no one disregards our laws and then creatively seeks to rewrite the legal prescripts to have a time of carefree fun in litigation, especially with the lives of the injured and vulnerable.”

Pretoria News

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