Ring of Silence Around Shaik Judge and Family
Stern, a rigid upholder of the legal process, seemingly implacable, somewhat crotchety and easily irritated - these are some of the descriptions of judge Hilary Squires, who has been called back from retirement to preside over the corruption and bribery trial of businessman Schabir Shaik in the Durban High Court, beginning on Monday.
At 73 the imperious, angular-faced judge is the epitome of old-school fair play, the sort that could quite easily go with a powdered wig and the Old Bailey.
Yet some may find the choice of this retired grandfather odd, even extraordinary, given his background as a former high court judge in Zimbabwe and one-time minister of justice, law and order in the Ian Smith government of the then-Rhodesia.
In that context, Judge Squires was described as "Herr Squires" in David Caute's book Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia, an exhaustive anti-white account of the Rhodesian war.
Not that the man destined to take on one of the most defining roles in South Africa's recent history is prepared to talk about any of that. A ring of silence has been placed around him and his close family in the run-up to the case.
"I really can't speak to you about anything," was his terse response from his Cowies Hill home.
"I can only talk to you after the trial is over." He was also not prepared to be photographed, accepting that if an out-of-date picture of him were used, that would have to do, adding wryly: "I haven't changed much in 30 years."
His 12-line CV supplied for the occasion is as short and sharp as his reply, beginning with graduation from the University of Cape Town with a BA LLB in 1955 and ending with his recall to service for this trial "in terms of Section 7 of the Judges Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act of 2001".
According to this legislation, judges who have served 15 years and who retire before the cut-off age of 75 can be called upon to act for three months of every year.
One learns that he practised as an advocate in the former Rhodesia, was appointed to the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia High Court in 1979, and resigned in 1984 to settle in Durban, where he resumed practice as an advocate and was permanently appointed to the Natal Provincial Division in 1988, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.
Whatever his credentials, Natal Judge President Vuka Tshabalala believes judge Squires is the man for the job.
"It will make life easier for all," commented Tshabalala on the appointment, adding that "the case may take a long time, and may stop and start - and this would be destructive for the functioning of the court. At least a retired judge doesn't have to worry about all the other things he still has to do."
Whether judge Squires sees it in the same way it is difficult to say. The records show that when he was appointed as a judge of the Natal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa in August, 1988 (an unusual appointment because he was not a South African silk), he retorted:
"I am honoured, but there are a lot of better-qualified people who are unable to accept, or are not available when required."
Tomorrow, as the judge takes his place in the high-ceilinged halls of the Durban High Court, he will have to decide whether to allow television cameras to broadcast proceedings live - something no other judge in a criminal trial in South Africa has had to do.
A man of few words outside the courtroom, his feelings on the matter are surprising. According to acting Judge President Brian Galgut, judge Squires has "no objection, in principle" to the trial being televised, subject to certain considerations.
With or without a TV broadcast, the public's attention will be riveted by every detail of the trial, with charges against Shaik coming thick and fast and a report that is expected to blow the lid on the activities of 10 other politicians and officials who were allegedly bankrolled by Shaik in return for business favours.
Corruption, bribery and money-laundering are just the beginning of the story.
With acknowledgements to Liz Clarke and the Sunday Argus.