Appeal judges slate state over Basson case

The state received a severe rap on the fingers in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein on Monday for its bungled application for leave to appeal in the Wouter Basson case.

Presiding appeal judge Louis Harms called the state’s application “lacking in every aspect.”

A full bench of appeal judges criticised the state for filing unnumbered, incomplete and sometimes irrelevant documentation, not in keeping with Appeal Court rules.

Harms called on the state to “show more respect” to his court the next time it approached it.

“It took me a full four days just to sort it all out,” Harms said.

“I have never seen something like this in my whole life.”

The state asked permission to appeal against high court judge Willie Hartzenberg’s refusal to recuse himself from chemical and biological warfare expert Basson’s trial.

Hartzenberg acquitted Basson on 64 counts relating to fraud, drugs and violence after a marathon trial in the Pretoria High Court.

On Monday, the appeal judges also questioned the state’s right to appeal against Hartzenberg’s recusal ruling.

The state argued the constitution granted it this right.

The appeal judges warned they were not in a position to set aside Hartzenberg’s factual findings.

Advocate Torie Pretorius, for the state, admitted they could only hope for the Appeal Court to order a re-trial.

Harms said the constitution forbade the state to prosecute someone again if he had already been acquitted.

In its bulky application for leave to appeal the state accused Hartzenberg of “bias” and “judgement in advance,” saying his judgement indicated a “total lack of interest in the state’s evidence.”

Hartzenberg had ruled the state’s arguments in its application for his recusal to be “trivial” and “unfounded.”

In its appeal, the state also wanted to argue against Hartzenberg’s dismissal of charges relating to a conspiracy to commit crimes in particularly Namibia.

Basson was found not guilty on a range of charges relating to fraud, drugs and violence.

He headed apartheid South Africa’s 1980s germ warfare programme, dubbed Project Coast, which targeted enemies of apartheid.

Oral argument on the matter is to be continued on Tuesday in the Appeal Court. - Sapa

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