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Zuma fights to overturn adverse legal costs ruling


Former president argues DA, EFF took too long to challenge decision to spend state millions on his criminal trials

Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

FORMER president Jacob Zuma was back at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) yesterday in a bid to overturn the high court ruling stripping him of state-funded legal services in his fraud and corruption trial.

A full Bench of the North Gauteng High Court – Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba and judges Piet Meyer and Elizabeth Kubushi – had declared the state not liable for legal costs incurred by Zuma in his personal capacity for criminal prosecution instituted against him.

In their December 2018 ruling, the judges reviewed and set aside decisions by the Presidency and the Office of the State Attorney made between June 2005 and March 2018 for the government to cover the legal costs Zuma incurred personally in applications relating to his criminal prosecution.

The legal costs incurred by Zuma have been calculated to be between R16.8 million and R32 million.

The high court also directed the state attorney to compile a full and complete accounting of all the legal costs incurred by Zuma in his personal capacity and to take all the necessary steps to institute civil proceedings to recover the money.

However, Zuma asked the SCA whether it was in the interests of justice for the high court to overlook the unreasonable delay by the DA in instituting its review application.

According to Zuma, the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act of 2000 only makes provision for a 90-day period within which applications should be lodged to be reduced or the 90 days or 180 days to be extended for a fixed period.

But this can only be by agreement between the parties, or failing such agreement, by a court or tribunal on application by the person or administrator concerned.

The act also allows the court or tribunal to grant an application when the interests of justice required that.

Zuma argued that it was not in the interests of justice for the high court to overlook the unreasonable delay by the DA and the EFF to institute their review applications under the principle of legality.

According to the former head of state, the DA became aware of the decision to fund the legal costs in his personal capacity in September 2008 and that the EFF did not bring its application in reasonable time as the move dates back as far as 2006.

The two opposition parties believe that the state’s decision to fund Zuma’s legal costs in the criminal trial and related litigation violated the State Attorney Act of 1957 and Treasury Regulations.

The full Bench agreed with the DA and the EFF that the requirements of the State Attorney Act were not met in Zuma’s case as the details of his criminal case relate to transactions that were in his personal capacity and not on the government’s behalf.

”It cannot be said to be in the government’s interest or in the public interest to have appointed private attorneys for Zuma and for the state to fund his private legal costs in defending the 18 criminal charges including racketeering, corruption, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion and in the related civil proceedings,” the judges found.