The State Attorney

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  – Martin luther King (1929 – 1968)

An important function of our courts was illustrated in a recent full bench decision of three judges in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. An application for committal for contempt of court had been brought against the National Department of Transport, the director-General of Transport, and the Minister of Transport. The judges called it “exceptionally  unwise” that neither the department of Transport nor its director-General had delivered any answering affidavits. “This appears to be a startling dereliction of duty.” 

But the greatest criticism was reserved for Ms lithole of the office of the State Attorney in Pretoria. The court described her replying affidavit as “disgraceful”. They observed that in “a ludicrous attempt to justify her conduct” Ms lithole had disclosed in her affidavit that the office of the State Attorney in Pretoria was, to use her own word, “dysfunctional”. The court called this a “shocking state of affairs.” She offered only “a cursory apology.” Judge Tuchten said: “The explanation, if it may so be described, that Ms Lithole does not read the emails addressed to her by other attorneys relative to the matters which she is handling, is most disturbing. It appears to us, moreover, to constitute unprofessional conduct on her part… I deprecate strongly the conduct of Ms Lithole as disclosed in her own affidavits before us and the correspondence admittedly sent and received. Her conduct seriously prejudices the administration of justice. Even more importantly, the dysfunctionality to which she refers demonstrates that the office of the state attorney, Pretoria, an important organ of state, is presently unable to comply with its constitutional and statutory obligations.” 

The judge concluded: “The ultimate responsibility in law to put matters right and ensure that the Office of the State Attorney Pretoria, complies with its constitutional and statutory obligations, rests on the Minister of Justice.”

In the order which it made, the court referred the judgment not only to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional development and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional development, but also to the law Society of the northern Provinces “with the request that the Law Society investigate the conduct of Ms Constant Litholi as appears from this judgment with a view to taking such action as the Law Society may consider appropriate.” 

It is clearly a matter of great public concern that our courtsare compelled to go to such lengths. on the other hand, it demonstrates again how important it is for our courts to fearlessly exercise their role in our constitutional democracy.

Tasima (Pty) Ltd v. Department of Transport & Others 2013 (4) SA 134 (GNP). 

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