The judge president of the Mpumalanga High Court has had enough and is so fed up with attorneys delaying court cases that he has threatened to hit the offending legal reps where it hurts the most – their pockets.
In fact‚ in one case‚ he has already ordered a state-employed attorney to personally pay for the costs associated with a court case against the police ministry.
In the Mpumalanga courts‚ a situation has developed where the flouting of court rules has resulted in cases being settled on the date of the trial‚ or cases being postponed because of failure by the parties to comply with the agreed timelines for ensuring that the trial starts on time.
In a judgment delivered on Tuesday‚ Judge Francis Legodi dealt with 11 civil cases in his court which were either settled on the dates of trial or were postponed due to non-compliance with pre-trial directives. In those cases‚ Legodi either granted a postponement or made a settlement agreement an order of the court.
And he put the blame squarely on the legal reps.
“Unfortunately‚ in the majority of these cases‚ it is the parties’ legal representatives who are at fault‚” Legodi said.
And now‚ so annoyed with the situation‚ Legodi has ordered that the offending legal practitioners file affidavits explaining why there was a failure to comply with those pre-trial directives.
He has also ordered‚ in some cases‚ that the attorneys involved file affidavits to show why their conduct should not be referred to the Law Society of South Africa.
In one of the cases‚ Legodi took aim at a state attorney’s bank balance.
The matter dealt with a claim against the minister of police and the National Director of Public Prosecutions over unlawful arrest and detention. The pre-trial conference on November 14 last year set down March 26 this year as a trial date‚ and it was also decided at that pre-trial conference that the minister’s attorney would file all reports by no later than March 15‚ 2018‚ including any investigation reports.
But on the date of the trial‚ the minister’s counsel asked for a postponement date.
Although Legodi granted the postponement‚ he ordered the attorneys for the defendant‚ the ministry of police‚ to file affidavits by March 29 explaining why costs order on a punitive scale – and out of pocket – should not be made against any person responsible for the postponement.
In her affidavit explaining the reasons for a postponement‚ the minister’s attorney‚ Nangamso Qongqo‚ said she only consulted with the police on March 16‚ the day she was supposed to have filed all reports with the court.
Legodi was not satisfied with her answer.
In his judgment‚ Legodi ordered Qongqo to pay out of her own pocket any of the plaintiff’s costs on an attorney and client’s scale and fees occasioned by the postponement.
“From 14 November 2017 (a) red light was flickering towards 26 March 2018 and in-between there were reminders to ensure that at the end‚ the light will turn green when everyone was expected to be ready for trial on 26 March 2018.
“But the red light and the stops in-between‚ did not seem to have worried the defendant’s attorney‚” Legodi said.
He said one would have expected that when Qongqo got out of the pre-trial proceedings of November 14‚ 2017‚ she would inform the police of the date of trial and the need to consult as speedily as possible.
Legodi said the time had come for those who worked in public institutions‚ like Qongqo‚ who is working for the state under the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development‚ should be made to be accountable for their actions.
“The notion that legal costs can be incurred with impunity because it is not for those who work for our public institutions to pay costs‚ must come to a stop in deserving cases‚” Legodi said.
Legodi said that in his division‚ no matter was enrolled on the trial roll unless a matter was laid before a judge during a pre-trial conference and a trial date was allocated during that conference.
Legodi said there was an advantage resulting from this method of case management.
“Firstly‚ cases are enrolled as speedily as possible. Secondly‚ parties are given the opportunity to set out time-frames for themselves and therefore to ensure that the pace of litigation is not allowed to move at a snail pace.”
Legodi said that in more than 30 matters his court had dealt with‚ legal representatives were ordered either to forfeit a day’s fee or other charges due to late settlement or postponement.
“But that does not seem to avert the occurrence as it would appear hereunder.”
Legodi said his court was determined to deal with the defaulters to ensure that matters were not settled on the dates of trial or postponed without due course.