Gentleman Judge Presides Over Shaik
Ben Maclennan, Sapa
If the Schabir Shaik trial is a drama, then Judge Hillary Squires is emerging, in his quiet way, as one of its richer characters.
His entry into the courtroom each morning is announced by a court orderly knocking loudly on the door that leads from the judges' chambers to warn the rest of the cast to rise.
But Squires manages to undercut the grandiosity of the elaborate red-and-black, belted robes that judges in the Natal division of the high court still wear, by entering with his hands in his pockets.
And for all his appearance of steely judicial rectitude, the 70something judge has a wicked sense of humour that has sparkled on several occasions during the past fortnight.
When he questioned forensic auditor and KPMG director Johan van der Walt last Thursday on his role, suggesting it might be that of a financial detective, Van der Walt said he thought of himself as a bloodhound.
"Auditors are people sent in to bayonet the wounded," Squires shot back.
Last week when prosecutor Billy Downer was about to embark on his outline of the state's case, Squires said: "You may remember that I think it was Mao Tse Tung who said that a thousand-mile journey starts with the first step."
"Absolutely M'Lord," replied Downer.
"It's very self-evident, but are you ready to take the first step?" the judge asked.
"Yes M'Lord," said Downer. "I'm cognisant of the heavy burden which lies upon me."
"You can contain yourself then, and we'll take it after tea at half past eleven," said Squires.
Downer began his presentation with a Latin quote from the classics , which he translated as: "I tell of arms and a man."
The judge sat on the Virgil quote for five days before issuing a tongue-in-cheek challenge to Downer on whether "sing" was not a better translation for the Latin "cano" than "tell", offering him in legalese the opportunity to "amend". Downer declined.
Squires shows extraordinary consideration to witnesses. When testimony or cross-examination has to stand over to the next day other judges might instruct a witness to be there at 10am but Squires asks if it would be convenient.
He has also been remarkably restrained in dealing with the flurry of media interest provoked by the trial, dealing with what the prosecution suggested was a breach of the subjudice rule by appealing to editors' better judgment rather than by laying down the law.
When a journalist's cellphone rang persistently while the court was in session, Squires at first ignored it, then merely asked albeit in a way that made it clear he would brook no refusal that the phone be removed from the courtroom.
And though he has barred television cameras from the courtroom while the body of the trial is in progress, he has left the door open for a broadcast of closing arguments and his judgment and sentence which would be a South African high court first.
With acknowledgements to Ben Maclennan, Sapa and the Business Day.