Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is currently in the process of filling 30 vacancies around the country. In the USA a Supreme Court position has just fallen open with Justice John Paul Stevens retiring. It is quite damning that people reading South African newspapers will probably hear as much, if not more, about the US selection process than they will about the South African process. Granted, in the USA Obama will be appointing a Supreme Court judge while here there are no Constitutional Court judges being appointed. However, I would wager that the coverage we get on Stevens will still surpass the coverage we got on the appointment process last year of a number of seats on the Constitutional Court. In light of this I thought I would do a very short post on how judicial selection happens here in South Africa.
The Constitution sets out the basic framework by which judges are appointed in South Africa. The Constitution gives both procedural requirements and substantive considerations for the appointment of judges.
The procedure to follow when appointing judges varies according to what vacancy is being filled. If the posts of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice (who head the Constitutional Court) are being filled then the President must consult with the JSC and leaders of the parties represented in the National Assembly. This procedure was brought into dispute last year when President Zuma intimated that he was going to appoint Justice Sandile Ngcobo without first consulting heads of the parties in the National Assembly.
If the posts of President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal are being filled then the President need only consult with the JSC.
The other judges of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the President, as head of the national executive, after consulting the Chief Justice and the leaders of parties represented in the National Assembly, in accordance with the following procedure:
- The JSC must prepare a list of nominees with three names more than the number of appointments to be made, and submit the list to the President.
- The President may make appointments from the list, and must advise the Judicial Service Commission, with reasons, if any of the nominees are unacceptable and any appointment remains to be made.
- The Judicial Service Commission must supplement the list with further nominees and the President must make the remaining appointments from the supplemented list.
Some important points about this procedure: Although the President is making the appointments his discretion is very circumscribed by the obligation to consult with the JSC and use nominees made by the JSC. This is in contrast with the USA where the President often introduces a candidate and then has to convince the legislature to pass the nomination.
This then begs the question as to how the JSC reaches its own shortlist that it hands over to the President. I won’t go into detail here (since frankly I am not entirely sure) but suffice to say the following people are members of the JSC: the Chief Justice, President of the SCA, one Judge President of the various High Courts, the Minister of Justice, two practising advocates to represent the profession, two practising attorneys, one teacher of law, six persons from the National Assembly, four persons from the National Council of Provinces, four nominees of the President and when considering High Court matters, the Judge President of that High Court and the Premier of that province.
So, the JSC is composed of a high percentage of politicians (many of which will be pushing an agenda very similar to the President’s agenda). But it also has a number of members that will be semi-independent of that political influence like the members of the judiciary and the profession. I am told that the opposition politicians that sit on the JSC are often some of the most vocal (De Lille from the ID, Van der Merwe from the IFP and Schmidt from the DA) and active during the questioning which suggests that they may play a larger role than expected in the JSC’s final decision. How the JSC arrives at its final decision is still slightly murky.
As mentioned above, the JSC is currently interviewing people to fill 30 vacant positions at various courts around South Africa. It will then recommend names to the President who will then appoint those people.
What the procedure does not tell us is what sort of person should be appointed to the bench. Here the Constitution (correctly) gives very little guidance. It merely stipulates that such a person must be appropriately qualified and for Con Court positions be a South African citizen (s 174(1) of the Constitution). The JSC must also consider the need for the judiciary to reflect the racial and gender composition of South Africa (s 174(2) of the Constitution).
However, besides these constraints the Constitution doesn’t say whether the people should be executive minded, liberal, conservative, a positivist, a Dworkinian etc. There is an unfortunate lack of discourse in South Africa around what type of people should be appointed as judges. The Democratic Governance and Rights Unit has released a good paper outlining their vision of what judges should look likethat you can find at this link (pdf). But besides this and the very occasional op-ed in a paper it doesn’t get discussed. I will put up my own thoughts in the future on what a good judge in South Africa would look like and try and harass friends into doing guests posts on it. Till then I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.
Dumisa Ntsebeza is a Presidential appointee but also an advocate. He was in the papers today because of his (entirely correct) questioning about the appropriateness of appointing white males to the bench in the Eastern Cape.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tim posed an interesting challenge to the possibility that courts create new law when they distinguish cases (see the comments to last weeks post on distinguishing). In thinking of my response I realized that a very useful legal reasoning post would be on the difference between rules and principles. Once again, this post is aimed at people interested in thinking about legal reasoning.
Rules and principles are both legal norms that tell us how a particular decision should be decided. Take the following example:
Rule: If a person stays on someone else’s land for an uninterrupted period of 30 years without force, stealth or permission but with the intention to be owner then that person becomes the owner of the land.
Principle: Property law should protect legal certainty.
Imagine that a decision arises in which a court is faced with a situation where someone has camped on land for 30 years believing that they were the owner without the real owner’s permission. Both the rule and the principle point towards the same outcome: the camper should be made the owner of the property. The rule requires that outcome since the camper has camped uninterrupted for 30 years without force, stealth or permission believing herself to be the owner. The principle also suggests the outcome since making the camper the owner would promote certainty since people would have already thought that she was the owner and by recognizing this the law generates more certainty.
So what then makes rules and principles different? Here I am just going to quote extensively from the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin:
“The difference between legal principles and legal rules is a logical distinction. Both sets of standards point to a particular decision about legal obligation in particular circumstances, but they differ in the character of the direction they give. Rules are applicable in an all-or-nothing fashion. If the facts a rule stipulates are given, then either the rule is valid, in which case the answer it supplies must be accepted, or it is not, in which case it contributes nothing to the decision.”
On the other hand, principles operate in a different way. Principles don’t operate in the all-or-nothing fashion that rules apply in. Principles are reasons for or against certain outcomes in a case but principles don’t necessitate an outcome.
If we return to the example I gave above. Although one of the principles of property law is to promote certainty there are many situations in which property law would enforce an outcome that doesn’t promote certainty. For instance, if I take your bike the court will still make me return that bike to you. This undermines legal certainty (everyone who saw me riding the bike would have thought the bike was mine). However, the principle of certainty was outweighed by other considerations. So, the principle of legal certainty is a reason for an outcome but that reason can be overcome by other reasons.
A famous example of the application of principles in legal reasoning is the case of Riggs v Palmer (made famous by Ronald Dworkin). In that case a
This principle is not a rule. The principle in the example was a reason for the outcome that the court reached but it did not act as an all-or-nothing reason. In law there are countless examples of where we let people profit from their own wrongs. For example, if you are speeding to make some very profitable deal that will close soon and you knock a pedestrian on the way we will still let you keep the profits from the deal (although you may have to compensate the pedestrian). This is not because all of those instances where we do let people profit from their wrongs are exceptions to the general rule. Rather, courts have weighed various principles against each other and decided that the principle that ‘none should profit from their own wrong’ was outweighed by other principles.
Our law is composed of both rules and principles. Knowing the difference between them will help you make better arguments in court. If there is a rule that operates in your favour then you will tell the court that the rule applies and so the court shouldn’t even consider other principles. However, if you don’t want the rule to apply you may argue that the court should have regard to a host of principles that support overruling the rule. The court would then have to decide whether to apply the rule or overrule it in favour of some legal principles.
Today marks the anniversary of the publication of the Codex Justinianus (7 April 529), Justinian's first project in the compilation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis*. Simply put, the Codex was a compilation of the constitutiones (the pronouncements of the Emperors, similar to statutes).
According to Nicoholas (An Introduction to Roman Law, 44) 'Justinian's importance lies in his having succeeded, at a moment when the ancient world was dissolving, in collecting together, in a form which could survive, the literature of the Roman law.'
To this day the Corpus Iuris Civilis is a direct source of South African law.
I realised today why Justinian was so prolific when it came to his codification endeavours. He was a crap soldier.
*The Corpus Iuris Civilis later included the Digesta, the Institutiones and the Novellae.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
It is often said that the common law is a flexible system of law that adjusts to the requirements of justice over time. This is confusing. If we follow a system of precedent, cases may arise where courts must follow an earlier precedent despite that it creates an injustice when applied to the new case. This seems neither flexible nor just. So, why do judges still believe the common law is flexible and leads to justice?
The truth is that judges find ways to ensure justice between parties. There are a few mechanisms a court can use to achieve this. The most common practice judges use to ensure justice in a particular case is through the use of distinguishing. So, when a court is confronted with a precedent that creates injustice in the case before it, the court may be able to distinguish it so the court needn’t apply the precedent. In what follows I want to give an account of distinguishing that draws very heavily on a legal philosopher called Joseph Raz.
It is important at the outset to highlight the difference between distinguishing in the strong sense and distinguishing in the weak sense. Distinguishing in the weak sense is when a court determines that the ratio of the prior case does not apply to the instant case. Let us look at this on an abstract level. Assume that the ratio of a case says that the rule applies if the operative facts a, b & c are present. So, if the instant case has facts a, b, c then the rule will apply. However, if the instant case has facts a, b, NOT-c then the rule does not apply. This is the weak form of distinguishing because all that the judges are determining is that, on the facts, the rule does not apply in the instant case. Last week’s post highlighted this with the example around the death penalty and treason. There is nothing special about this type of distinguishing but it is still quite a complicated process.
Distinguishing in the strong sense is different. This strong sense of distinguishing (which I will just call distinguishing from here) means changing a rule that does apply to the instant case so that the newly formulated rule no longer applies to the instant case. Going back to the example above, imagine the instant case had facts a, b, c. So, the precedent rule would clearly apply. But, the court can say, we’re changing the rule so that it requires a, b, c, and e. The instant case has facts a, b, c, NOT-e and so the newly formulate rule does not apply to the instant case. Clearly, what we have here is not distinguishing on the facts but instead changing what the rule actually is. Courts often do this but they aren’t very honest about the fact that they are creating a new rule.
This is all very abstract. Some examples should make this clearer. Imagine a case like this. Person P1 builds a house on a farm that he did not own but believed he owned. The true owner O1 then claims possession of his property. The court looks at the situation and makes the rule that says “an owner can reclaim his land provided that he compensates the possessor for improvements made by the possessor”. On the facts, P1 improved the property of O1 therefore (applying the rule) O1 may get the farm back only if he pays P1 for the improvements. This case is the precedent case.
Imagine a new case (the instant case). P2 knows that he is not the owner of a farm but he builds a house on it. O2 then wants to reclaim the property. So, he sues P2 for return of possession. P2 responds by saying, “I will only give you possession if you pay me compensation for the house I built.” A court looks at this situation. The rule from the precedent case states that “an owner can reclaim his land provided that he compensates the possessor for improvements made by the possessor.” But the instant court realizes that this would be an inequitable outcome – why should P2 get any compensation when he knew that he was not the owner of the farm? To overcome this injustice, the instant court reformulates the precedent rule as follows “an owner can reclaim his land provided that he compensates the good faith possessor for improvements.” So, the new rule now requires that the possessor made the improvements believing that they were entitled to so do. The instant court now applies the newly formulated rule to the facts of the case. Clearly P2 knew he wasn’t owner. So, O2 could reclaim possession of the farm without compensating P2 for possession.
The important things to extract from this example are as follows. A precedent creates a rule. The instant court is then faced with a rule that creates an unfavourable outcome. So the instant court reformulates the rule by adding a new condition that changes the old rule by limiting its application. In the above example this was done by adding the condition that the possessor had to be in good faith (genuinely but mistakenly believe they were entitled to possession).
The second important thing to extract from the above example is that when the instant court reformulates the precedent into a new rule, the modified rule must still justify the outcome in the precedent case. In other words, if the court were to apply the new rule to the facts of the old precedent case it must reach the same outcome that the precedent case reached. This is the case in the above example. If you apply the newly formulated rule to the facts of the old precedent case O1 would still have had to compensate P2.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I don't know whether everyone who blogs on this blog will support the below statement but I know I do and I am relatively certain that it reflects the view of everyone.
Bloggers For a Free Press
Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa.
We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.
The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.
We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but a insolent effort to
intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President.
We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.
Friday, March 19, 2010
I thought I'd get a word in on The Citizen v McBride, a Supreme Court of Appeal judgment handed down at the end of February. David recently wrote about it on this blog, and Pierre de Vos and Robert Brand wrote about it on theirs. I thought this might be a good place to rehearse an argument I am making in a case note. Someone once said that journalism is the first draft of history, so why not use law blogs as the first draft of legal scholarship? I'll try to be brief and leave the details for the note.
I'll recall the facts of the case and give some of the more racy context for interest's sake. Robert McBride had gained some notoriety as a member of the ANC's armed wing in the late 80s, most notably for a bombing of Magoo's Bar in Durban, an act which resulted in 3 deaths and many injuries, all civilian. McBride was arrested for this and sentenced to death, but was released during the early 90s as a prerequisite of the ANC's involvement in negotiations (the tit for tat was that Barend Strydom, the infamous 'Wit Wolf,' also had to be released).
McBride subsequently appeared before the TRC's Amnesty Committee. As an aside, his appearance there left a lot to be desired - when a TRC Commissioner asked the daughter of one of the victims whether she was prepared to forgive McBride at any point during his testimony, she said something to the effect of: 'The only time I was ready to forgive McBride was when I walked through the door at the beginning of this hearing.' But forgiveness wasn't a requirement of the amnesty process, and so McBride received amnesty for the Magoo's Bar bombing.
Fast forward to 2003. McBride had been a Director in the Department of Foreign Affairs since democracy, and was now about to be appointed to the position of Ekhuruleni Metro Police Chief. Enter The Citizen newspaper, who clearly did not like this. They published a series of articles and editorials in which they made it known that McBride was unfit for the position. These articles included juicy statements like the following:
'Robert McBride's candidacy for the post of Ekhuruleni Metro Police Chief is indicative of the ANC's attitude to crime. They can't be serious. He is blatantly unsuited, unless his backers support the dubious philosophy: set a criminal to catch a criminal.'
'If the ANC regards Robert McBride as a hero of the struggle, it should erect a statue of him - perhaps standing majestically over the mangled remains of the women he slaughtered. He should most certainly not be made a policeman.'
McBride sued for defamation. The central defamatory statement made in all the publications was that McBride is a murderer. (There were other defamatory statements aplenty, but ultimately they were all parasitic upon this one.) Is this actionable? The key question was whether it is true to say that McBride is a murderer. If it was, the statement would fall under the protection of the classic defence of truth and public benefit.
Why would such a statement not be true? McBride had been convicted on three counts of murder, after all. Yet the Supreme Court of Appeal held that the statement was in fact false, on the basis that McBride had received amnesty for the murders. The effect of such a grant of amnesty is far reaching. Section 20(10) of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995 (I'll call it 'the Reconciliation Act') says that 'the conviction shall be deemed to be expunged from all official documents or records and the conviction shall for all purposes, including the application of any Act of Parliament or any other law, be deemed not to have taken place.' That's strong language, and on this basis Streicher JA, who wrote the majority judgment, ruled that 'once amnesty had been granted to [McBride] he could no longer be branded a criminal and a murderer in respect of which such amnesty had been granted.'
But Streicher made it clear that he did not mean the past had been erased. In fact he wrote explicitly: 'It is a fact that [McBride] placed the bomb that killed a number of people and it is a fact that he was convicted of the murder of those people. The amnesty granted to the respondent could not obliterate those facts or erase them from the historical record...' Rather, the point is that the amnesty erases McBride's legal status as a murderer.
Now, I happen to think the decision is bizarre, but I've found it difficult to pinpoint why exactly it is wrong in law. I sympathize with the dissenting judgment of Mthiyane JA, which points out that 'murderer' is 'a conventional description in common parlance of someone who perpetrates such acts.' Yet what could 'such acts' be other than acts of murder, and how are we to understand 'murder' if not by its legal description? The Oxford English Dictionary notes that 'murder' has a primary legal sense ('criminal homocide') and a secondary moral sense 'the action of killing or causing destruction of life, regarded as wicked and morally reprehensible irrespective of its legality', my emphasis). All the same, there are good policy reasons for taking the word in its primary legal sense. The stigma created by branding a person a criminal is great, and in our society can lead to acts of violence. The law has a monopoly on deciding the guilt or innocence of a person, and we should protect this. I do not think that the law should condone the anti-abortion protestor, for example, who calls a doctor who has performed a lawful abortion a 'murderer.'
For this reason, amongst others, I do not think it is wise to rely on the argument that 'murderer' is not only a legal description, though ultimately I agree with it. Consider the 12 year old who unlawfully and intentionally kills another, and is acquitted for lack of criminal capacity. The conduct of the child falls under the description of murder. Should we not say that the child has been excused for lack of capacity, but is still a murderer (that is, someone who has committed a murder)?
The real problem with this line of argument is that it involves too much semantic hairsplitting. We should prefer a more secure doctrinal or policy argument. Here's one. Firstly, let's distinguish between (a) a conviction for the crime of murder, and (b) the juristic fact of murder upon which such a conviction rests upon such a fact. The conviction (a) is established by the decision of a court. The fact (b) is established by the requirements of the crime being present. It's clear that the two are related but may exist independently of each other. On the one hand, it may be that someone has committed a deed that falls under the legal description of murder but a conviction has not yet been secured. It would be true to call the doer of the deed a murderer, for she has committed a murder. On the other hand, we know that a conviction might be secured but it turns out much later (after examining DNA evidence, for example), that the convicted person did not commit the murder. It would be false to call such a person a murderer, even while she languishes in jail. Indeed, in a civil trial one may prove (on the balance of probabilities) that a person is a murderer, even in the absence of a conviction.
My second contention is that s 20(10) affects (a) the conviction, but not (b) the juristic fact upon which it rests. If this is correct, it follows that s 20(10), contrary to Streicher JA's decision, has no effect upon the truth value of the statement 'McBride is a murderer.'
Is my second contention correct? Let's look at the provision again. It says that when amnesty is granted in respect of a crime for which a conviction has been secured, 'the conviction shall be deemed to be expunged from all official documents or records and the conviction shall for all purposes, including the application of any Act of Parliament or any other law, be deemed not to have taken place.' A literal reading of the subsection clearly supports my contention. At no point does the subsection, or the rest of the section for that matter, say that it is the juristic fact upon which the conviction rests or the legal description of the act for which the conviction was secured which is affected.
Although there is no ambiguity in the provision, and thus no need to look beyond its literal language, a purposive interpretation would simply bolster my argument. In Du Toit v Minister for Safety and Security the Constitutional Court had to interpret the same section in order to determine its retrospective effect. Langa CJ, writing a unanimous judgment, held that the section should be read restrictively given that the TRC granted amnesty as a means to reveal the truth. Therefore we should not think that amnesty was given for the absolute benefit of perpetrators of past human rights violations. Indeed, the purpose of the TRC was disclosure, not interment of the past.
Furthermore, we now all know that whenever a court interprets legislation it is obliged by s 39(2) of the Constitution to promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights. This is another reason to think that s 20(10) only affects convictions and not the legal descriptions of the underlying acts. Not only because such a reading gives effect to the right to freedom of expression, but because of the s 34 right to have any justiciable dispute resolved by a court or 'another independent or impartial tribunal or forum.' It may be that the TRC is such a forum, but we must remember that s 166 of the Constitution vests judicial authority in the courts, and that the Reconciliation Act did not empower the TRC to decide upon the guilt and innocence of those who appeared before it. Yet Streicher JA's interpretation of s 20(10), by erasing not only the conviction but the legal description of McBride's acts, has the consequence that a grant of amnesty by the TRC also removed the guilt of the amnesty applicant. Thus Streicher JA's interpretation must be wrong.
For those reasons, I think that the Citizen's defence of truth and public benefit should have succeeded. I do also wonder whether The Citizen might have pleaded media privilege (in other words, the National Media v Bogoshi defence), or for that matter tried to rebut the presumption of fault on the basis that they had made a mistake of law (that is, they had mistaken the effect of s 20(10) of the Reconciliation Act). Neither of these are sure-fire strategies though, given that Bogoshi seems to create liability in defamation for negligent defamatory statements by the media.
I'd be interested to know what anyone else thinks.
(1) No person may refuse-
(a) to sell condoms to a child over the age of 12 years; or
(b) to provide a child over the age of 12 years with condoms on request where such condoms are provided or distributed free of charge.
(2) Contraceptives other than condoms may be provided to a child on request by the child and without the consent of the parent or care-giver of the child if-
(a) the child is at least 12 years of age;
(b) proper medical advice is given to the child; and
(c) a medical examination is carried out on the child to determine whether there are any medical reasons why a specific contraceptive should not be provided to the child.
(3) A child who obtains condoms, contraceptives or contraceptive advice in terms of this Act is entitled to confidentiality in this respect, subject to section 105.
[Date of commencement of s. 134: 1 July 2007.]
On the day, Musa Mbere from the department of social development was quoted as saying, “The reason behind is to make sure that our law is aligned in terms of the age when children can access contraceptives. Children become sexually active at an early stage. It’s a reality we are dealing with.” The Children’s Rights Center (CRC) also applauded the government’s decision to put such legislation into effect. Spokesperson for the CRC, Noreen Ramsden told journalists that the legislations was ‘a big step forward’ for the children. Deputy director of the AIDS Foundation of South Africa, Nozuko Majola concurred and agreed that the act allowed for communities to start talking about sexual reproductive health more openly. The South African Human Rights Commission also came out in support of the legislation saying ‘it was an improvement in our legislation.’
While there was much lauding of the Act, I just wondered and am still wondering; Do any of the people who came out in support of this provision have children as young as 12? Would any parent actually allow their 12 year olds to buy contraceptives? Is there a parent who can actually give their 12 year old access to condoms where such child makes the request? Imagine this conversation between a parent and a child:
Thursday, March 18, 2010
"Final Year 2009
It is my great pleasure to welcome one and all
Gathered here today in this lecture hall.
Many of you have sat here many times before
In a determined effort to learn a little of the law.
In this lecture theatre and the two nearby
You have sat through many lectures, most of them dry,
Most so dull, they would have made you weep
Had you not, in self-defence, fallen asleep.
But that, I’m afraid, is the nature of the beast
Upon whose flesh you have chosen to feast.
Had you not the stomach for the law’s monotony
You should have studied something interesting, like maths or botany.
Of course, a few of your colleagues were so enthralled
By the study of the law, that they have stalled
Their emancipation from this Faculty until 2010
Just so they can see Mr Bradfield again.
And there are some who by causation were so delighted,
Who by wrongfulness had their passion so ignited,
Who thought the course-and-scope requirement so sublime,
That they’ve decided to do delict for a third time.
But to mourn dear comrades, fallen along the way
Is not the reason for our meeting here today.
We’re assembled here for a graduation
And that is cause for a major celebration.
To get a law degree from UCT
You have to be as clever as clever can be.
You have to be conscientious and hardworking too
And have an ability to see things through.
You need to have worked out the rules of the game
And have realised that your lecturers are not all the same,
That while public-law lecturers genuflect at the Constitutional shrine,
Private-law lecturers think the common law does just fine.
Your cutting-and-pasting you need to have perfected,
So that your multiple plagiarisms would remain undetected.
You need to have mastered paraphrase and word-substitution
So you could pass your many assignments without prosecution.
Admittedly, you also had to learn the odd legal rule,
But only well enough so that you could fool
Your examiners into thinking that you did comprehend
Enough of the law for them to send
You out into legal practice, where a single mistake
Could have the result that you never make
Partner in the big law firm in the big city.
Yes, practice can be hard, practice can be . . . without pity.
Of course, you also had to learn theories so abstruse
That they could not possibly have any practical use.
Will Hart’s rule of recognition or Dworkin’s constructive interpretation
Really help you to pass the attorneys’ examination?
But though jurisprudence will not bring professional success,
It is very handy if you wish to impress.
Indeed, the pick-up line: ‘Baby, let’s deconstruct’
Is guaranteed to get you instantly . . . .
But that’s enough of this salacious chatter.
The law, after all, is a serious matter.
Anyway, lawyers are not known to be flirtatious.
They’re known, rather, for being sagacious
– not to mention loquacious, vexatious, mendacious and rapacious.
So let us shift our gaze instead
To the future which – by definition – lies ahead.
Let us reflect on what may be in store
For those embarking on a career in law.
Will you emulate my old class-mate Brett
Who professional ethics was inclined to forget;
Who was moved exclusively by avarice and greed
And thus morality and the law seldom did heed?
Yes, dear old Kebble started as one of us.
But now he’s very much an ex-alumnus,
An ex-attorney and ex-businessman too,
A predictable end for one so lacking in virtue.
My class-mate Willie Hofmeyr I knew less well.
He preferred the solitude of his Pollsmoor cell.
But though Willie, like Brett, disobeyed the laws,
Willie, unlike Brett, had a noble cause.
So when in practice you receive those visitations
From the little horned fellow whispering sweet temptations,
Do not be daft, do not be silly.
Don’t be like Brett, be like Willie.
But now it is time to make a small confession,
Lest you receive the wrong impression:
The reason for subjecting you to this interminable rhyme
Isn’t really to caution you against a life of crime.
Nor is it to try to be wise or funny.
The bottom-line is: We want your money.
We want you, the minute that you start earning,
To give something back to this place of learning.
Give us your money, give us your gold,
Not to replace my car, which is 12 years old,
But because academic excellence costs a pretty penny
And because the needs of this Faculty are great and many.
So before you purchase your eco-friendly 4x4
Spare a thought for this Faculty of Law.
Think about the kids who cannot pay our fees
And for that reason alone cannot get our degrees.
Reflect upon the need for legal transformation.
Then reach into your silk pockets and make a donation.
Give us your money, give us your lucre.
Help us to build a better future.
To conclude this poem I must draw your attention
To the people who deserve the final mention.
It is not today’s graduands that I have in mind.
But rather all those who stood behind.
I mean the fathers and the mothers,
The grandparents, the spouses and the lovers.
Without their pecuniary and sentimental aid,
Far fewer today’s graduation would have made.
So it’s two cheers for the graduands and one for their teachers,
For they indeed are marvellous creatures.
But for their families and partners, for Mama and Papa,
It can be nothing less than: Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah!"
Monday, March 15, 2010
I thought that I’d start with the question that everyone always asks me – what are my rights when I get stopped by the police at a road block. I’ve heard some pretty harrowing stories of policemen intimidating and threatening motorists with the goal of extracting a bribe. Frightened by the prospect of spending a night in jail and all the dangers that come with it, most people cave in and pay up. Given that I’m not a big fan of corruption and would prefer if people don’t get pushed into acting in a way that encourages it, I give you the Law-shield-that-may-work-in-some-instances-to-get-you-out-of-these-situations-but-unfortunately-not-in-all-instances.
- Can the police search my car and other possessions?
• Your car: Police officers are empowered to stop, inspect and test your vehicle to ensure that it complies with the safety and functionality requirements of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) and regulations. This includes the power to at any time enter your vehicle and inspect it.
As a side note, the NRTA actually specifies that officers aren’t allowed to dismantle any parts of your car unless they happen to be a qualified mechanic and if they do, it’s compulsory for them to put it all back together again. If you are ever in the situation that a police officer actually dismantles your engine, please do write and tell us, we can put it on our ‘never saw that coming’ list of the impossible.
• Searching your other possessions: The State may seize anything which is concerned in or is on reasonable grounds believed to be concerned in the commission or suspected commission of an offence. Normally a police officer would need a search warrant to search your person or property. However, there are certain instances when they can do so without a warrant:
i. You consent to the search for and seizure of the item or,
ii. That police officer believes on reasonable grounds that a search warrant would be issued to him anyway and that the delay in obtaining such a warrant would defeat the object of the search.
A lot can be said about what constitutes belief on ‘reasonable grounds’ but for our purposes it’s enough to say that it is required. If an officer is trying to search your stuff when it is clearly unreasonable and there is obviously no connection to an offence, he is overstepping his powers.
- Do I have to take a breathalyzer test? If so, what is the actual legal limit for blood-alcohol levels?
• Yes, you do have to take a breathalyzer. The NRTA prohibits you from refusing to give a blood or breath sample. However, in the name of your protection (to avoid dodgy dealings) and just plain hygiene, make sure that the officer inserts a fresh mouthpiece into the base of the inhaler in your presence and that the mouthpiece is still covered by its protective covering. The protective covering should then be removed when you are ready to blow.
• Legal limit: The blood alcohol limit is 0,05 grams per 100 millilitres. Apparently, for an average 65kg woman, this means that your limit is about 1 glass of wine or 2 beers over 2 hours of drinking. For an average 70kg man the limit is approximately 2 glasses of wine or 2 beers. To calculate this easily for yourself go to http://www.health24.com/tools/bloodalcohol/start.asp.
- Can I be arrested for being rude?
• Not in most cases (it depends on whether you go blurting out hate speech or become severely abusive). However, the NRTA does specifically prohibit you from threatening the police officer and his family with either physical violence or injury to their property. So keep your rage in your pocket.
• On the other hand, to state the obvious, no-one likes a prick. There is no point in looking for trouble and annoying a police officer. At the risk of sounding preachy, we would suggest that you be polite and respectful and in most cases you’ll be treated in the same way in return.
- Can the police officer refuse to let me go on my way?
• They can indeed. If you appear to be incapable of driving because of your physical or mental condition, the officer can temporarily forbid you to drive.
- If I get threatened or asked for a bribe what should I do?
• Bluff tactics and crippling legal knowledge are useful here:
o Ask for the officer’s name, unit and service identification number. Ask to see his badge and verify that he has given you the right name and number.
o Start as many sentences as you can with ‘the Criminal Procedure Act/ National Road Traffic Act says...’ followed by you reeling off whatever you can remember from this blog-post.
o Make it very clear that if the officer arrests you, you will consult a lawyer and you will sue for unlawful arrest.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Kylie’s legal representative, Advocate Trengrove, has said that the Constitution and the Labour Relations Act (hereafter LRA) say that every employee is entitled to protection under the law and that moral judgement should not be a factor considered by the court. Advocate Trengrove then uses an example that is aimed precisely at getting you to make a moral judgement – a hawker’s assistant selling fruit in contravention of a city bylaw can ‘get through the door’ at the CCMA. Both the hawker’s assistant and the prostitutes actions are illegal, however, I would venture a guess that most people would think that somehow the prostitute is less deserving of protection – this would stem from a moral judgement of their profession and is probably not based on any cogent legal reasoning.
I agree with Advocate Trengrove, that ones moral sensibilities should not play a role in deciding the legal issue of whether Kylie is to be afforded the protection that other employees enjoy under South African law. A principled and consistent position must be taken in respect of the laws application to both the illegal hawker’s assistant and the prostitute, but as to what that position is I am undecided (and perhaps am hesitant to express an opinion on without an adequate knowledge of labour law).
I do, however, think that there is a certain legal conundrum involved where a particular activity is criminalised and at the same time those who choose to engage in it are granted the protection of labour law? The consequences of an approach of this kind, if taken to the extreme, are several – take for example the junior drug mule challenging his dismissal by the ringleader – and surely ‘contracts’ of this kind are completely contrary to public policy?
As I said, I am undecided on the issue and this is really just a vehicle for gauging opinion, so please do comment.
What do you think? Will ‘Kylie’ get her happy ending...?
However, the legal issue is of more concern to me here. How far are we willing to allow censorship to go? As far as the Chinese government, where there are approximately 30 000 Internet police? Where blogs, chat rooms, Internet forums are monitored and erased? Where there is reportedly the highest number of journalists and cyber-dissidents imprisoned in the world? I am wary of a paternalistic state especially in the context of freedom of expression. This right is probably one of the most important rights to grace our Constitution and is fundamental to any functioning democracy. We just need to look to the recent events where Mr Maxwele was arrested for zapping the President to see that we may be treading a fine-line in turning this right into a white elephant. I, for one, am not in favour of no longer being able to express my opinion, no matter how uninformed or counter-majoritarian it may be. I sincerely hope that the powers that be feel the same way.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Long story short - the aim of the DTICPLC was to discuss 'Changing the Consumer Protection Landscape in South Africa: The Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008'.
As I think I mentioned before, the CPA is supposed to (and according to the DTI will) come into effect in October 2010. I view myself as a dangerously optimistic person, but not only do I think that this is unlikely, I fear that premature implementation of this legislation will be the end of the already battle weary South African consumer. My reasons?
- Misinformation - amongst the various pamphlets unleashed at the DTICPLC was the CPA Guide aptly (if you like irony) emblazoned with the following slogan: 'You have rights as a consumer. Understand them. Enforce them.' The guide is not only written in legalese (again, ironic, the CPA demands that all communication with consumers takes place in plain language), it is riddled with omissions and at times patently incorrect. Oh, and almost no mention is made of enforcement measures. The answer to this criticism: We will sort it out once the CPA is in effect.
- Lack of consultation - one of the aims of the CPA is to consolidate consumer remedies in one act thus presenting a united front against Evil (read: suppliers). The CPA not only fails in that regard, but it would appear that there has been little, if any, consultation with other state departments (think Department of Health, Agriculture etc who administers various pieces of legislation aimed at ensuring that only quality and safe goods reach the consumer) and industry regulators (think insurance, banking etc). The answer to this criticism. We will sort it out once the CPA is in effect.
- No one knows how to interpret the provisions of the CPA. Consistently the speakers at the conference stated that they have not done a detailed analysis of the CPA because it is too difficult. Again, irony, the CPA is aimed at providing protection to vulnerable consumers, hopefully they won't find the CPA too difficult to interpret. The answer to this criticism: We will sort it out once the CPA is in effect.
- Gaps in the Act: One example, the Act fails to give alternative dispute resolution agencies (who will form the first line of defence against Evil) the right to refer disputes directly to the National Consumer Tribunal. The answer to this criticism: We will sort it out once the CPA is in effect (can anybody spell ultra vires).
So I guess my question today is: Is bad legislation better than no legislation? (Political gain aside.)
Yours in frustration,
Elizabeth 'the Consumer Protector' de Stadler (my wrestling name)
When I read these chilling stories, I could not imagine what these two poor women went through, knowing that after giving birth, they would be stoned to death. Honestly, how does it feel, for a mother to know that they will be stoned to death as soon as they give birth? One would imagine that they probably wish they remained pregnant forever so that they would not face the gruesome killing that awaited them. This is one odd instance where a mother wishes she never had to give birth because of what awaits her after. They could not hide and were not allowed to leave their villages. Their fate was sealed. Death for them was as certain as the rise of the sun.
Some of the foreigners have been palpably guilty of wrongs - areas that had less crime before the advent of foreigners are now ‘no go areas’ because of the prevalence of criminal activity. Stories abound of how Nigerians run drug dens in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other towns. There have been reports of how Zimbabweans are guilty of violent crimes in areas such as Hilbrow, Thembisa and Yeuoville. In other towns, foreigners have been accused of selling counterfeit products, fake money, masterminding frauds, human trafficking and other criminal activities. Marginalized South Africans are agitated.
Yesterday (09.03.2010), a traffic police officer bellowed at me, “Niyasisokolisa apha nina bantu baseAfrica! Buyelani kokwenu!!” (You are giving us problems you people from Africa! Go back to your countries!!). This happened after I showed him my foreign drivers’ licence during a routine traffic roadblock. One time, I was in a taxi from Rondebosch to town where the driver was a Somali man. Two passengers in the taxi were conversing in Xhosa – “Aba bantu asibafuni apha. Basithathela imisebenzi.” (We do not want these people here. They are taking our jobs away).
On the 8th of February this year, xenophobic attacks flared up in Siyathemba township in Balfour. Foreigners were attacked and had their property burnt. About 30 foreign nationals had to seek refuge at Balfour police station. In the Western Cape township of Dunoon, locals have already promised foreigners ‘blood and thunder’ after the World Cup. The situation is the same in other townships across the country. We foreigners know what awaits us after June/July 2010. How does one live with the knowledge of these impending attacks? A lot of us come from countries facing severe challenges of governance which have made life there impossible. In Nigeria for example, hundreds of people were literally massacred last week in clashes between Christians and Muslims. Everyone is aware of what is happening in countries such as Sudan, Eastern DRC, parts of Angola, Somalia, Zimbabwe, parts of Uganda and Rwanda and in honesty, where can these people seek refuge? The same fate awaits us in South Africa after the World Cup and what can one say except, [T]here is no abiding place for some of us on this earth. In America and Europe, they despise us for working with Al Qaeda. In Africa, we are accused of taking away opportunities for local nationals. In some of our countries, we are burnt alive, locked up in prisons without food, water or sanitation, mutilated and have our mothers and sisters raped for not supporting so and so. Where can we go?