Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2005-09-29 Reporter: Sapa

Court Turns Down Defamation Claim Against Public Protector 



Cape Times





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A R500 000 defamation claim by businessman Richard Young against Public Protector Selby Baqwa was turned down by the Pretoria High Court yesterday.

Baqwa issued a statement in August 2001 in which he told the media that Young's behaviour could be seen as "cowardly".

This was after Young and his legal team on August 30, 2001, excused themselves from the public hearings of the joint investigation team into the strategic defence packages (arms deal).

Judge JMC Smit said in his judgment yesterday: "It is inexplicable why the defendant (Baqwa) made this ill-considered statement at a most inopportune moment during the proceedings, but that does not make the statement defamatory.

"The mere fact that the defendant said some people may regard the plaintiff's (Young) behaviour as cowardly does not convey to reasonable people an impairment of plaintiff's reputation.

The statement may also indicate that as many people may hold the view that his action in withdrawing from the proceedings is well-founded.

"In my view it is most unfortunate that the public protector made uncalled-for remarks of the plaintiff during proceedings at a stage when he was not even qualified or justified to make a credibility finding on any of the witnesses, but that does not make the remarks defamatory," the judge said. 

Young and his legal team walked out of the public hearings shortly before Rear Admiral Johnny Kamerman of the navy was due to take the stand.

In leaving, Adam Pitman, Young's attorney and Young himself made certain comments to the media. Baqwa, on the same day, instructed his spokesman to issue a statement in which he said Young, in excusing himself from further participation in the public hearings could be seen as cowardly.

Young said in court papers the "cowardly" remark was defamatory and it would impair his reputation in the eyes of the reasonable person.

Baqwa admitted he gave instructions for the issuing of the statement, but he said the comments constituted fair comment on facts as they had occurred in the public hearing and that it concerned a matter of public interest.

Young, an electronics engineer, is the managing director of CC11 Systems, also known as C121, which lost out on the arms deal. He claimed there were irregularities in the awarding of a tender for information management systems used in the four Corvette ships bought under the country's multi-billion rand arms deal.

CC11 was named the preferred supplier of these systems, but the tender was awarded to French company Detexis.

Young is involved in a R150 million lawsuit against the government regarding his lost bid.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Cape Times.