Collapse of the justice system in South Africa

On 20 February 2013, Johan Kriegler on Classic Business on Classic FM radio, discussing the legal practice bill, said the following words:

A case is only as good as the argument that is presented.

Just after this, he said the legacy of the bar over the last 20 years is:

… brilliant lawyers who argued the case beautifully. That is .. the purpose of the bar.

Think about it.  Pick one:

  • Your case is only as good as the evidence
  • Your case is only as good as your testimony
  • Your case is only as good as it is true
  • Your case is only as good as it is right

No, it’s only as good as your argument.  This is strange, but it is true of the South African legal system: a system run by lawyers, for lawyers, in which beautiful arguments are used. Never mind the evidence – some other rather important things are also entirely secondary in court:

  • Justice
  • Fairness
  • Efficiency
  • Morality
  • Righteousness
  • Truth

This means that if you approach the courts in South Africa armed only with a simple claim to justice, fairness, efficiency, morality, righteousness or truth, you can expect to be slapped around by lawyers who will find that the judge fully supports their eloquent arguments.

I’m pretty sure that the judge believes that being supported by justice, fairness, efficiency, morality and truth is a part of the quality of your argument, but in practice it is the person with the most money who can most effectively string the legal process along to his own ends.

In the case of Oscar Pistorius applying for bail, it was interesting how the simple matter of letting a killer go, or confining him until his trial was turned out into a circus of three days (or was it four days?).  How did this happen?  How could they not get to the point any sooner?  Well, getting to the point is not the point of the justice system.  It’s not a justice system: it’s a legal system.

Recently eight policemen from Daveyton meted out a form of justice to a taxi driver parked illegally and resisting arrest, dragging him behind their vehicle (it seems he didn’t want to get into the van) – he died.  This act demonstrates a total lack of confidence in the legal system: officers of the law know that merely arresting the man for a clear violation of law will lead to no effective justice for him, so they try to substitute a little justice of their own.  (A small point of interest is that their actions demonstrate that they do not believe that the criminal can be reformed – they display no confidence in the work of Jesus Christ – you don’t carelessly break things if you really believe they can become useful later.)

I don’t know why the legal system is so specially broken in South Africa – supposing that justice is merely a technical matter is not confined to South African practitioners.  Perhaps it is because we are being ruled by a criminal class, who have a history of struggle against the law, and little insight into the benefit of a society that is firstly just and fair.  However, it could be just the lawyers.

On the same programme, Rudi van Rooyen said:

When it comes to judges, you don’t interfere with their function, and that is the rule of law.

It’s wrong: if a judge is unjust someone must interfere with his function, and that would be the rule of law.  It would be, if the law had any interest in justice, but the corrupt law we have has no great interest in actual justice.

Lawyers also,

accept the brief whether they like the client or not

and say

this is my client, I will defend his interests to the best of my ability.

The client’s interest is to stay out of jail and away from punishment.  In civil cases, the client’s interest is to force his will against the other party.  His lawyer believes his duty is to bend the truth and repeat those of his client’s lies that will lead to this happy outcome.

And after all their beautiful arguments, what is the outcome?

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.

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