October 21, 2014, 8:33am
Chequebook justice in SA
Biénne Huisman, City Press
Johannesburg - Justice is said to be blind, but that does not seem to be the case when large sums of money are involved, City Press reports.
The high-profile murder trials of megawealthy defendants Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani have brought to the fore the issue of “chequebook justice” in South Africa.
A common complaint the world over is that legal systems favour the rich who are able to afford top-notch lawyers and publicists to untangle them from their sticky situations.
So is there truth in the adage that justice is blind – and more pertinently, does it apply in South Africa?
For leading local forensic scientist David Klatzow, who has advised plaintiffs and defendants for more than 30 years, the answer is simple – no.
Klatzow believes justice favours the rich.
“Of course, there is a better chance that you and I, the middle class, or poor people, will end up going to jail. We simply cannot afford such sophisticated representation as, for example,Oscar Pistorius.
“It’s the same with medical care. If you have money, you can afford better medical treatment.
“Certainly, Oscar’s legal team worked very hard on this case and they deserve kudos. But it’s an expensive exercise and not everyone can afford it,” he said.
'Mental muscle' deficiency
Klatzow also pointed out the huge “mental muscle” deficiency apparent in most countries.
This happens because private lawyers can easily earn up to three times the salaries of their state-employed counterparts, leading to the brightest minds defecting to the private sector where they are cherry-picked by well-heeled clients who are in a pickle.
“The clever people who remain in prosecution often do so for moral reasons,” said Klatzow.
He said entry-level defence advocates charge at least R5 000 a day, while “half-decent” advocates get out of bed for up to R50 000 a day.
This makes Pistorius’ defence advocate Barry Roux’s daily charge of R35 000 – as reported by Afrikaans daily Beeld – sound fairly reasonable.
But, add to that the rest of Pistorius’ legal team – Kenny Oldwage at an estimated R24 000 a day and Brian Webber at R20 000 a day.
This adds up to R3.7m over 47 days - thus far the duration of the Pistorius murder trial which is expected to wrap up at the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday.
Forking out this small fortune may have paid off for Pistorius as he now faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for culpable homicide instead of 25 years for murder. He also stands the chance of being sentenced to correctional supervision at his uncle Arnold’s mansion in Waterkloof, Pretoria, which comes complete with a lake.
On the other hand, the most recent annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) shows that senior management jobs – from levels 13 to 16, the highest in the organisation – pay on average R977 000 a year, including benefits.
A position for a deputy director of public prosecutions in Kimberley is open and the advert says the annual salary will be R895 677.
City Press was told the earnings of Pistorius’ prosecution team, advocates Gerrie Nel and Andrea Johnson – both senior deputy directors of public prosecutions at the North Gauteng High Court – are in this bracket.
By contrast, Roux made about R1.645m in just 47 days.
On the other side of the country, Dewani has assembled top legal minds to argue his innocence in the Western Cape High Court.
His team is led by veteran defence Advocate Francois van Zyl who represented Schabir Shaik in his infamous 2004/05 fraud and corruption trial at the Durban High Court.
Shaik – a friend of President Jacob Zuma – was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail for financial dealings involving the president, but was released on medical parole after serving only two years.
So critics continue to ask if there are two criminal justice systems. One for people with wealth, fame or influence who can afford to hire top lawyers and public relations firms, and one for everyone else.
However, NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube insisted that justice could not be bought in South Africa.
The NPA’s unhappiness with the outcome of the Pistorius trial has been well-documented.
Mncube said the NPA would indicate on Tuesday if it would appeal the matter.