Delay in dismissing Zuma challenge down to administrative hold-up

Supreme court of appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya only received former president Jacob Zuma’s reconsideration application a month after it was filed and she dismissed it three days after it finally reached her desk, the office of the chief justice (OCJ) said on Friday.

The application prompted a delay in Zuma’s corruption trial after he filed in April to challenge the dismissal by the court of his application for leave to appeal the high court’s dismissal of his challenge to the standing of state prosecutor Billy Downer

The fact that it had not been decided then compelled Judge Piet Koen to postpone the case again on 17 May after counsel for Zuma invoked section 18 of the Superior Courts Act, which stipulates that, barring exceptional circumstances, a decision that is subject to an appeal or an application for leave to appeal, is suspended.

Koen expressed surprise that the application had not been dealt with before setting 1 August as the new holding date for the resumption of the arms deal corruption trial.

Maya only began dealing with the application on that day as a result of administrative problems in the general office of the appellate court, according to the OCJ.

“President Maya became seized with it on 17 May 2022 and not since March 2022 as has been widely reported in the media. She attended the application expeditiously, in line with the conventions of the SCA, and thereafter issued an order disposing of the application on 20 May 2022.”

Zuma has indicated that should Maya dismiss his application, he would turn to the constitutional court for leave to appeal Koen’s ruling. 

His approach to Maya was common knowledge and the OCJ did not give further details of the administrative problems that prompted the delay.

Downer told the high court in May that the National Prosecuting Authority did not oppose it for the sake of having it decided as speedily as possible. He also said that he had inquired about the status of the application on 16 May and was told that it had not reached Maya, prompting Koen to remark: “Normally these matters are dealt with fairly quickly.”

The reconsideration application was one of two matters involving Zuma that had stalled at the SCA.

The court is set to hear his appeal to the high court ruling in December last year that held that his early release from prison on medical parole was unlawful. 

Judge Elias Matojane ordered that Zuma return to custody to serve the remainder of his 15-month sentence for contempt of court for defying a constitutional court order that he respect summons to testify before the Zondo commission.

He immediately filed for appeal, suspending the order.

The Democratic Alliance and the Helen Suzman Foundation asked that the appeal be heard expeditiously and Maya then sent an email to the then registrar of the court, Paul Myburgh, in which she asked that he indicate to the parties that she could set down the hearing for 22 May. 

“The former registrar was also requested to inquire from the parties as to when they would be ready to file the appeal record and their respective heads of argument to enable her to issue the necessary directives,“ the OCJ said.

But Myburgh instead informed the parties that the appeal could ‘‘not be accommodated’.

As a result of the confusion, the appeal will now only be heard in August.

The OCJ said it was unfortunate that blame for the delays regarding the two cases had been placed at Maya’s door.

“It is most unfortunate that the delays on these two matters have been directly attributed to the president of the SCA, Justice Maya. Some reports have suggested that the delays were a deliberate act on her part. The facts in this regard do not support these assertions.”

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